Nuclear Confab to Urge ‘Minimized’ Stocks of Bomb-Usable Plutonium

Global Security Newswire Staff
March 24, 2014, 9:37 a.m.

A draft state­ment for glob­al lead­ers at­tend­ing this week’s nuc­le­ar sum­mit in­cludes a prom­ise to main­tain only “min­im­um” stocks of weapon-us­able plutoni­um.

A Janu­ary ver­sion of the Nuc­le­ar Se­cur­ity Sum­mit 2014 com­mu­nique, which is to go for ap­prov­al be­fore all 53 na­tions par­ti­cip­at­ing in the two-day Hag­ue event, would for the first time urge par­ti­cip­at­ing coun­tries to work on lim­it­ing their ci­vil­ian stocks of plutoni­um, For­eign Policy re­ports.

The not-yet-is­sued state­ment also urges world­wide re­duc­tions in weapons-grade urani­um. Either sub­stance can be used in non-mil­it­ary set­tings, but also po­ten­tially could be ap­plied to­ward build­ing a nuc­le­ar weapon.

“We en­cour­age states to min­im­ize their stocks of HEU [highly en­riched urani­um] and to keep their stock­pile of sep­ar­ated plutoni­um to the min­im­um level, con­sist­ent with na­tion­al re­quire­ments,” the pro­vi­sion­al com­mu­nique states. Pres­id­ent Obama and 52 oth­er world lead­ers are at­tend­ing the two-day event.

The spe­cif­ic word­ing has yet to be agreed to by all sum­mit par­ti­cipants, ac­cord­ing to in­formed in­siders and notes on the draft com­mu­nique.

The pre­vi­ous two sum­mits in 2010 and 2012 fo­cused on re­du­cing ci­vil­ian sup­plies of HEU ma­ter­i­al, which has few­er com­mer­cial uses.

Sep­ar­ated plutoni­um can be used to power war­heads and , if re­pro­cessed, used to fuel atom­ic-en­ergy re­act­ors. The lat­ter use has caused a num­ber of coun­tries such as In­dia, Ja­pan and Rus­sia to make plutoni­um-burn­ing re­act­ors a fo­cus of their nuc­le­ar-power sec­tors.

Mean­while, France and the United King­dom have gen­er­ated plutoni­um for ex­port, ac­cord­ing to the magazine. Else­where, South Korea is angling to be al­lowed to use plutoni­um re­pro­cessing tech­no­logy in a new atom­ic trade deal be­ing ne­go­ti­ated with the United States.

The atom­ic-en­ergy sec­tor’s re­li­ance on plutoni­um has caused glob­al stocks of the nuc­le­ar ma­ter­i­al to rise even as HEU caches are be­ing re­duced — in large part due to the na­tion­al com­mit­ments made at pre­vi­ous nuc­le­ar-se­cur­ity sum­mits. World­wide plutoni­um stocks are presently as­sessed at 490 tons, enough to power tens of thou­sands of war­heads.

Jon Wolf­sth­al, deputy dir­ect­or of the James Mar­tin Cen­ter for Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion Stud­ies, said Wash­ing­ton for years has been at­tempt­ing to con­vince na­tions pos­sess­ing large quant­it­ies of plutoni­um to prom­ise to cap or lower the amount of ma­ter­i­al they hold in re­serve.

However, na­tions with atom­ic-en­ergy sec­tors “have been re­luct­ant to link the is­sue of nuc­le­ar ter­ror­ism to their stock­piles of com­mer­cial plutoni­um,” out of con­cern that do­ing so would draw neg­at­ive at­ten­tion to their own plutoni­um stocks, he said.

As host of this year’s sum­mit, the Neth­er­lands has been lead­ing the cam­paign to in­clude word­ing on plutoni­um min­im­iz­a­tion in the sum­mit’s joint state­ment, ac­cord­ing to one in­formed source cited by the magazine.

Ja­pan on Monday an­nounced it would sur­render hun­dreds of pounds of weapon-us­able plutoni­um to the United States as part of its so-called “gift-bas­ket” to the Nuc­le­ar Se­cur­ity Sum­mit pro­cess.

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