“Al-Qaida is US creation from a laptop and is used as a perception builder. What Al-Qaida does is to create conditions where US can justify her actions against Islam and Muslim countries. It would be used to create threats to Pakistan nukes to justify a global action against Pakistan.” Raja Mujtaba

By Air Commodore (R) Khalid Iqbal

During the Seoul Summit world leaders called for strong action to combat the threat of nuclear terrorism. “Nuclear terrorism continues to be one of the most challenging threats to international security…Defeating this threat requires strong national measures and international cooperation.” said the Seoul communiqué. Summit has urged all countries to accede to international conventions on protecting fissile material, and reaffirmed the central role of, the International Atomic Energy Agency. Participating states tried to create a synergy in their effort towards nuclear security by sharing the best practices.

At least four terror groups, including al-Qaida and Japan's Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult, have expressed  determination to lay hands on a nuclear weapon, said Kenneth Luongo, co-chair of the Fissile Materials Working Group, a Washington-based coalition of nuclear security experts. Nuclear materials stored at research facilities, health care centres, power plants etc are generally considered less secure than weapons at military installations. Last year's meltdown at Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant also shows how terrorists could launch a radiation hazard simply by sabotaging a facility's functions.

Materials that can be used to make nuclear bombs are stored in scores of buildings spread across dozens of countries.  Even if a fraction of it falls in the hands of terrorists, it could be disastrous. Evidence by ‘Illicit Trafficking Database (ITDB) indicates that it is much easier to possess, steal and traffic materials for Radiological Dispersal Devices (RDDs), or ‘dirty bomb; these devices can be assembled with relative ease. Building a nuclear weapon isn't easy, but a bomb similar to the one that obliterated Hiroshima is "very plausibly within the capabilities of a sophisticated terrorist group," according to Matthew Bunn, an associate professor at Harvard University.

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Participants of the first Nuclear Security Summit in Washington were able to evolve an international consensus about the seriousness of this threat; they agreed to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials, worldwide, by the end of 2014. The Washington Summit underlined the need for putting in place minimum security standards for all nuclear reactors, plants, hospitals, and research laboratories.

Building on the tempo, Seoul Summit focused on a framework of 11 core issues: Global nuclear security architecture; role of the IAEA; nuclear materials; radioactive sources; nuclear security and safety; transportation security; combating illicit trafficking; nuclear forensics; nuclear security culture; information security; and international cooperation. Seoul summit agreed to work on securing and accounting for all nuclear material by 2014. While United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540 calls upon member states to adopt “effective, appropriate” security standards, and IAEA shares appropriate best practices, the Seoul summit has attempted to provide operational mechanism for implementing these generalities.

While the threat of nuclear terrorism is considered lower now than a decade ago, the nightmare scenario of a terrorist exploding a nuclear bomb in a major city isn't necessarily a far-fetched stuff. The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), a Washington-based nonproliferation group that tracks the security of world nuclear stockpiles, said in a January report that 32 countries have weapons-usable nuclear materials. Some countries, such as the United States, maintain strict controls already. However others, including Russia and other former Soviet republics, have struggled to secure their stocks, raising fears of "loose nukes" falling into the hands of terrorist groups.

Some countries on the NTI list are a concern because of their government's ties with militant groups or because of corruption among their officials. Others simply don't yet have good safety practices. Although Pakistan's small stockpiles of nuclear material are heavily guarded, it is believed to be prone to corruption by officials who may have sympathies to hard-line Islamic militants, Bunn said.

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Despite India’s insistence that its nuclear materials are secure, the NTI ranked India among the top five nuclear security risks, saying the government needs more transparency, more independence for its nuclear regulator and tighter measures to protect nuclear material in transit. India's lax security was displayed in at least two incidents in recent years in which radioactive materials, from a hospital and a university laboratory, ended up in a scrap dealer's shop. Other recent nuclear scares include a suspected attempt by a crime syndicate in the eastern European country of Moldova to sell weapons-grade uranium to buyers in North Africa.

North Korea and Iran are viewed with worry because of fears of nuclear proliferation. But Bunn said both are "likely small parts of the nuclear terrorism problem." "North Korea has only a few bombs' worth of plutonium in a tightly controlled garrison state… Iran has not begun to produce weapons-usable material." he said

One of the key points in the communiqué was an emphasis on the need to secure stocks of HEU, which is used to make weapons and also has usages in nuclear power plants and medical devices. The communiqué called for the nations to minimize use of HEU, stressed for effective inventories/ tracking mechanisms for nuclear material and development of forensics capacities to determine its source.

The leaders also welcomed “substantive progress” on national commitments made at the first nuclear security summit in 2010. This included the disposal of 480 kilograms of HEU (equivalent of 19 nuclear weapons) from eight countries. Ukraine and Mexico have cleaned out all stockpiles of HEU, while Russia and the United States have converted HEU equivalent to 3,000 nuclear weapons down to low-enriched Uranium.

Experts are of the opinion that modest progress had been made in Seoul and many of the tough issues to fully solve the problem had not been addressed because participants were unwilling to make binding and transparent agreements. “The current nuclear material security regime is a patchwork of unaccountable voluntary arrangements that are inconsistent across borders…Consistent standards, transparency to promote international confidence, and national accountability are additions to the regime that are urgently needed.” said Ken Luongo, co-chair of the Fissile Materials Working Group, a group of non-proliferation experts. 

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The communiqué also omitted a reference to the need for “concrete steps” towards a world without nuclear weapons, a phrase which had been included in an earlier draft statement. A Seoul government official told media on condition of anonymity that some nations had been uncomfortable about expanding the scope of the summit into nuclear weapons reduction and disarmament, and the call for concrete steps.

The Republic of Korea has done a commendable job in steering the conference in a prudent way. One of its striking features is that the conference agenda was kept away from multilateral politics and a consensual approach was adopted. The summit process succeeded in creating a shared space for discussion and coordination.

Pakistan has keenly participated in the Nuclear Security summits. This indicates its continuity of resolve and abiding commitment to the cause. Since the Washington Summit, Pakistan has setup centres of excellence for training and emergency response mechanisms; upgraded physical protection arrangements; and revised export control lists. Following the Fukushima accident, Pakistan has conducted thorough stress tests of its nuclear power plants. Pakistan is in the process of deploying Special Nuclear Materials (SNM) portals on key entry and exit points to prevent illicit trafficking of radioactive materials. Pakistan is fully committed to continue working at the national level to maintain highest standards of nuclear security and cooperate with the international community for achieving a secure and peaceful world.