A major international summit convened here by Barack Obama to discuss ways of improving the security of nuclear materials got under way on Monday with the American President underlining the importance of preventing terrorists from getting hold of the ingredients for a nuclear bomb.

The two-day summit brings together 47 countries, including the U.S., 37 of whom are being represented by their heads of state or government. The event was kicked off on the evening of April 12 with a reception and ‘leaders working dinner' hosted by Mr. Obama. A final declaration, negotiated over the past few months by officials from participating countries, will be released on April 13.

While political differences with Iran and North Korea meant the U.S. never had any intention of inviting them for this summit, the guest list has some curious omissions.

Romania has nearly 1500 MWe of nuclear generating capacity and sources 20 per cent of its electricity from nuclear energy, Bulgaria's two reactors account for 35 per cent of its national power grid, and Hungary has four reactors generating one-third of its power. All three countries also figure in the list compiled by the International Panel on Fissile Material with stocks of Highly Enriched Uranium in the 10-100 kg. range. Yet, neither country will be at the Washington summit, even though Armenia, with just 370 MWe of nuclear power has been invited. Uzbekistan has also not been invited, despite holding HEU stocks in the 100-1000 kg range. But Georgia, with no nuclear programme to speak of, will be in Washington.

Two other countries whose presence ought to have been considered essential to such an endeavour are Niger and Namibia, who together account for nearly 18 per cent of the world's mined uranium. But the two African states, whose yellowcake drives much of the world's nuclear programme, were not considered important enough for the summit.

Asked about the criteria for invitations for the summit, Laura Holgate, Senior Director, WMD Terrorism & Threat Reduction at National Security Council, told reporters on Sunday that the idea was to get a representative set of countries. “We couldn't invite every single country that has any nuclear connectivity and so we were looking for countries that represented regional diversity where we had states that had weapons, states that don't have weapons, states with large nuclear programs, states with small nuclear programs.”

Both India and Pakistan are attending the summit at the prime ministerial level. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pulled out at the last minute, opting to send his Foreign Minister instead.

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