Making world safe

The call to promote effective security of nuclear materials worldwide, made by the two-day Nuclear Security Summit held in Washington, highlights a major international concern which has deepened in recent years. The fact that 47 heads of government attended the summit shows the importance the international community attaches to nuclear security. The threat of pilferage of sensitive nuclear information and material and their falling into wrong hands is not unrealistic. Terrorist groups like al-Qaeda are known to be working to get access to nuclear weapons. The success of A Q Khan in selling nuclear secrets is well-known. The consequences of a terrorist group acquiring a nuclear device are unimaginable, and it is difficult to predict how the world will deal with a real Fifth Horseman scenario.

The communique and the work plan adopted by the summit seek to commit all countries to the best policies and practices of storage, use, transportation and disposal of nuclear materials so that leakage of sensitive information or materials is eliminated. There is need for co-operation and co-ordination between countries and there cannot be a difference between NPT signatories and others in this respect. Governments have a big responsibility in ensuring the safety of nuclear facilities within their borders. If Pakistan had taken sincere measures, A Q Khan would not have been able to do what he did. Good intelligence is also crucial in tracking the activities of dangerous groups and non-state actors and in ensuring that nuclear facilities are not penetrated by those who seek expertise or materials.

An initiative to establish the best practices for security was made by India, with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announcing the setting up a Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership. The centre will do research and development in evolving safe, secure and proliferation-resistant design systems. The participants also accepted President Obama’s suggestion that all nuclear materials in the world should be secured in the next four years. Some countries also announced their decision to give up highly enriched uranium as a nuclear fuel. The decision of the US and Russia to dispose of a part of  their weapons grade plutonium stock is also a good signal. The key to total security, as the summit emphasised, is total commitment by all.

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