Summit sets new goals, including nuke forensics and security of spent fuel, IT systems

Acknowledging the negative impact the Fukushima disaster has had on the acceptability of atomic power, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told a gathering of world leaders here on Tuesday that the synergy between the “highest standards of safety and security… is essential to restore public faith in nuclear energy”.

Download graphic: Ten steps to thwart nuclear terrorism

In a statement to the plenary of the Nuclear Security Summit—which was attended by 53 countries and five international organizations—Dr. Singh underlined India’s responsible citizenship of a nuclear world and backed the modest expansion of the scope of international cooperation that the Seoul meeting has agreed to: minimization of High Enriched Uranium for civilian purposes, improved nuclear forensics to help determine the origin of detected nuclear material and thus pin responsibility on the originating state, greater information and transport security and preventing nuclear trafficking.

“Nuclear security is primarily a national responsibility but there are benefits to be gained by supplementing responsible national actions through sustained and effective international cooperation,” he said.

The six-page Seoul Communique released at the end of the summit outlined several other areas for action, including security of radioactive sources that terrorists could use to make ‘dirty bombs’, incorporating security features in nuclear plant design and ensuring terrorists are not able to disrupt information-technology based control systems at nuclear facilities.

Making a virtue out of necessity, India’s “National Progress Report” cited the use of an indigenous core in the APSARA reactor and the shifting of its original French fuel to a safeguarded facility as a step aimed at “minimization of use of civilian HEU”. In fact, the transfer was required under the terms of the Indo-US nuclear deal of 2005. The Indian report, which was presented to the nuclear summit, also noted there was growing demand for large-scale production of isotopes for healthcare, industrial and food-related uses—an indication that India would oppose any scaling back of civilian applications of nuclear technology should the issue arise in a future security summit.

In his statement, the Prime Minister pledged one million US dollars towards the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Nuclear Security Fund for 2012-13 and urged all countries to accede to key international treaties on nuclear security. These include the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism and the Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, and its 2005 amendment which obliges states to protect nuclear material in domestic use and all peaceful nuclear facilities.

The National Progress Report also cited the bill for the “establishment of an independent Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority which will enhance oversight of nuclear security and strengthen synergy between safety and security.”

The meshing of these two functions has already attracted criticism in India with some analysts advocating that the proposed NSRA not be burdened with responsibility for security. DAE officials say the proposal is only for NSRA to oversee security considerations within the four walls of nuclear plants and not outside.

Though the NSS agenda is limited to security, Prime Minister Singh said the best guarantee for nuclear security is a world free of nuclear weapons. This goal requires “commitments embedded in an agreed multilateral framework involving all states possessing nuclear weapons,” as well as “universal restraints on the first use of nuclear weapons” in the interim.

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