Nations Pledge to Follow Security Guidelines for ‘Dirty Bomb’ Material

President Obama chats with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key following the closing session of the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit on Tuesday in The Hague, Netherlands. Nearly two dozen countries at the two-day gathering pledged to abide by international guidelines on safeguarding materials potentially usable in a crude nuclear device.
National Journal
Douglas P. Guarino
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Douglas P. Guarino
March 26, 2014, 10:56 a.m.

Twenty-three na­tions par­ti­cip­at­ing in the Nuc­le­ar Se­cur­ity Sum­mit in the Neth­er­lands this week said they in­tend to com­ply with in­ter­na­tion­al guidelines re­gard­ing the se­cur­ity of so-called “dirty bomb” ma­ter­i­al.

The parties to the mul­ti­lat­er­al state­ment — in­clud­ing the United States and coun­tries in Europe, Asia and the Middle East — pledged to se­cure all their most dan­ger­ous “Cat­egory I” ra­di­olo­gic­al sources un­der guidelines set out by the U.N.’s In­ter­na­tion­al Atom­ic En­ergy Agency. Spe­cific­ally, they vowed to fol­low the IAEA “Code of Con­duct on the Safety and Se­cur­ity of Ra­dio­act­ive Sources.”

Ra­di­olo­gic­al sources are those that, if paired with con­ven­tion­al ex­plos­ives, could form a “dirty bomb” that dis­perses ra­dio­act­ive con­tam­in­a­tion over an area, but which can­not pro­duce a nuc­le­ar det­on­a­tion akin to an atom­ic bomb.

This week’s “gift bas­ket” — a term ap­plied mul­tina­tion­al pledges not signed by all 53 na­tions par­ti­cip­at­ing in the sum­mit — had been ex­pec­ted as part of a broad­er ef­fort to inch the sum­mit pro­cess to­ward the es­tab­lish­ment of glob­al stand­ards for nuc­le­ar se­cur­ity. However, this one went fur­ther than some is­sue ex­perts had an­ti­cip­ated.

In a Tues­day blog post, Mat­thew Bunn of Har­vard Uni­versity noted that the par­ti­cip­at­ing coun­tries had pre­vi­ously com­mit­ted to im­ple­ment­ing the IAEA guidelines.

Still, the sum­mit pledge “goes fur­ther, call­ing for meas­ures such as check­ing the trust­wor­thi­ness of people with ac­cess to ra­di­olo­gic­al sources, provid­ing a rap­id re­sponse to any at­tempt to gain ac­cess to them (and car­ry­ing out reg­u­lar ex­er­cises of that re­sponse cap­ab­il­ity), and de­vel­op­ing a na­tion­al-level re­sponse plan based on an in-depth as­sess­ment of the threat,” Bunn wrote.

The gift bas­ket also iden­ti­fies “best prac­tices” that par­ti­cip­at­ing na­tions “may con­sider,” such as re­quir­ing “mul­tiple factors” to be con­firmed be­fore a per­son is per­mit­ted to ac­cess sens­it­ive ma­ter­i­als, along with the in­stall­a­tion of mon­it­or­ing sys­tems with “re­dund­ant and timely alarms “¦ sent to a cent­ral­ized mon­it­or­ing fa­cil­ity.”

Bunn called these prac­tices “more ven­ture­some” than oth­er ini­ti­at­ives to which na­tions had pre­vi­ously com­mit­ted. The former nuc­le­ar se­cur­ity ad­viser to Pres­id­ent Clin­ton cri­ti­cized the pledge for not in­clud­ing lan­guage re­gard­ing the trans­port of ra­di­olo­gic­al sources, though.

Led by Ja­pan, five coun­tries — in­clud­ing France, South Korea, the United King­dom and the United States — have signed onto a sep­ar­ate gift bas­ket re­gard­ing trans­port se­cur­ity for nuc­le­ar and ra­di­olo­gic­al ma­ter­i­als. The five coun­tries, which ori­gin­ally en­dorsed the gift bas­ket at the 2012 Nuc­le­ar Se­cur­ity Sum­mit in South Korea, agreed to form a work­ing group that would hold meet­ings aimed at im­prov­ing the se­cur­ity of nuc­le­ar ma­ter­i­als in trans­port.

The five coun­tries will also “con­sider” tak­ing oth­er ac­tions re­lated to trans­port se­cur­ity, ac­cord­ing to the joint state­ment they re­leased this week. These in­clude ad­opt­ing the re­com­mend­a­tions of the yet-to-be pub­lished IAEA “Im­ple­ment­ing Guide on the Se­cur­ity of Nuc­le­ar Ma­ter­i­al in Trans­port.” The na­tions will also “con­sider mu­tu­ally ex­chan­ging in­form­a­tion on phys­ic­al pro­tec­tion and the se­cur­ity of oth­er ra­dio­act­ive ma­ter­i­als while in all modes of do­mest­ic in­ter­na­tion­al trans­port, in or­der to cap­ture good prac­tices and les­sons learned.”

The five coun­tries par­ti­cip­ated in a table-top ex­er­cise in Tokyo in Novem­ber 2013 aimed at help­ing ad­vance the same ob­ject­ives, the joint state­ment says.

“Fur­ther­more, we held two work­ing group meet­ings to ad­dress the trans­port se­cur­ity is­sues amongst the rep­res­ent­at­ives of the gov­ern­ments,” the joint state­ment con­tin­ues. “As a res­ult of the meet­ings, we de­cided to con­tin­ue the work­ing group activ­it­ies un­til the next Nuc­le­ar Se­cur­ity Sum­mit in 2016 and ex­press our fur­ther com­mit­ment to work to­geth­er for im­prov­ing se­cur­ity in the trans­port of nuc­le­ar and oth­er ra­dio­act­ive ma­ter­i­als.”

Ac­cord­ing to the joint state­ment, “Much know­ledge and ex­per­i­ences [have] been gained from past trans­ports con­duc­ted throughout the world over the last dec­ades. His­tor­ic­ally the se­cur­ity re­cord of ci­vil­ian trans­port of nuc­le­ar ma­ter­i­als has been ex­cel­lent and we must strive to main­tain that re­cord.”

Bunn, however, cri­ti­cized the trans­port­a­tion gift bas­ket, which does not re­quire the par­ti­cip­at­ing coun­tries to util­ize any spe­cif­ic se­cur­ity meas­ures. He told Glob­al Se­cur­ity News­wire that the trans­port-se­cur­ity pledge “is as weak as dish­wa­ter,” and he took ex­cep­tion to its sug­ges­tion that “the se­cur­ity re­cord of ci­vil­ian trans­port of nuc­le­ar ma­ter­i­als has been ex­cel­lent” his­tor­ic­ally.

“Es­sen­tially what it means is just that the ship­ments have not been seized by ter­ror­ists so far,” Bunn said. “It used to be leg­al to send plutoni­um by reg­u­lar mail, and the in­dustry com­plained loudly when the [U.S. Nuc­le­ar Reg­u­lat­ory Com­mis­sion] star­ted re­quir­ing any armed guards at all.”

A 1974 re­port by the then-Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­ing Of­fice in­cluded pho­to­graphs of bomb-grade highly en­riched urani­um sit­ting un­guarded on a dolly in an air­port, Bunn noted. More re­cently, a truck con­tain­ing ra­dio­act­ive co­balt-60 was stolen in Mex­ico, but ul­ti­mately was re­covered.

In light of the Decem­ber in­cid­ent in Mex­ico, non­pro­lif­er­a­tion ex­perts have cri­ti­cized the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s plan to cut fund­ing for nuc­le­ar-se­cur­ity pro­grams in fisc­al 2015.

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