Leaders Sign Nuclear Security Pact

BY Larisa Epatko  April 13, 2010 at 5:19 PM EDT

Leaders of 47 countries attending the nuclear security summit in Washington, D.C., agreed Tuesday that responsibility for keeping nuclear materials from getting into the hands of terrorist groups lies with all nations.

The final communique, released at the end of the two-day summit, also calls on the global community to work together to prevent the theft of nuclear materials and to cooperate more effectively with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Among the specific steps outlined in the non-binding agreement are properly accounting for weapons stockpiles, taking steps to ensure security at nuclear sites, and considering converting highly enriched uranium-fueled research reactors to use low-enriched uranium where possible.

The participants also agreed to get more countries to sign the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism and the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, both of which are legally binding. Broadening participation in the conventions was one of President Barack Obama’s top goals in holding the summit.

“It is increasingly clear that the danger of nuclear terrorism is one of the greatest threats to global security — to our collective security,” he said Tuesday.

But the summit participants also took pains to acknowledge that security steps should not infringe on countries’ rights to peaceful development and use of nuclear energy. They agreed to hold a follow-up nuclear security conference in South Korea in 2012.

Russia and the United States also further solidified their nuclear cooperation by signing an agreement to dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium no longer needed for making nuclear weapons.

Combined, the plutonium would have been enough for about 17,000 nuclear weapons, said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the signing ceremony. Instead, it will be used in civil power reactors to produce electricity, according to a State Department fact sheet.

“When this mechanism starts working, we expect its positive influence on the process of nonproliferation, including making the process of nuclear disarmament multilateral at some point, hopefully not very far from today,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Watch part of the signing ceremony here:

Russia committed $2.5 billion toward the disposal program, and the United States agreed to contribute $400 million.

“There’s so much excess plutonium and highly enriched uranium from nuclear weapons,” said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, D.C. “You’ve got to do something with it. With the highly enriched uranium, you can blend it down, turn it into low-enriched, which can’t be used in weapons. With the plutonium it’s a lot harder, it’s very radioactive and a big internal risk.”

The plutonium protocol follows Presidents Obama and Dmitry Medvedev’s April 8 signing of a new version of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which pledges to reduce nuclear weapons stockpiled by the two countries by a third.