US President Barack Obama during the closing news conference of the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
World leaders called on countries to cut their use and their
stocks of highly enriched nuclear fuel to the minimum to help
prevent al Qaeda-style militants from obtaining material for
Winding up a third nuclear security summit since 2010, this
one overshadowed by the Ukraine crisis, 53 countries -
including the United States and Russia at a time of high
tension between them - agreed much headway had been made in
the past four years.
But they also underlined that many challenges remained and
stressed the need for increased international cooperation to
make sure highly enriched uranium (HEU), plutonium and other
radioactive substances do not fall into the wrong hands.
The United States and Russia set aside their differences over
Crimea to endorse the meeting's final statement aimed at
enhancing nuclear security around the world, together with
other big powers including China, France, Germany and
But Russia, China and 16 other countries shunned a separate
initiative of the United States, the Netherlands and South
Korea at the summit to incorporate UN nuclear agency security
guidelines into national rules.
"The absence of Russia, China, Pakistan, and India - all
nuclear weapons states with large amounts of nuclear material
-as well as others ... weakens the initiative's impact," said
the Fissile Materials Working Group (FMWG) of security
The Dutch hosts hailed the summit as "a major step towards a
safer world". By contrast, the FMWG said the summit had taken
"moderate steps" toward stopping dangerous weapons-usable
nuclear materials from going astray but that bolder, more
concerted action was needed.
US President Barack Obama said Ukraine's decision at the
first nuclear security summit in Washington in 2010 to remove
all of its HEU was a "vivid reminder that the more of this
material we can secure, the safer all of our countries will
"Had that not happened, those dangerous nuclear materials
would still be there now," Obama told a news conference. "And
the difficult situation we are dealing with in Ukraine today
would involve yet another level of concern."
At this year's summit, Belgium and Italy announced that they
had shipped out HEU and plutonium to the United States for
down-blending into less proliferation-sensitive material or
disposal. Japan said it would send hundreds of kilograms
(pounds) of such material to the United States.
Like plutonium, uranium can be used to fuel nuclear power
plants but also provides the fissile core of a bomb if
refined to a high level.
"We encourage states to minimise their stocks of HEU and to
keep their stockpile of separated plutonium to the minimum
level," said the summit communique, which went further in
this respect than the previous summit, in Seoul in 2012.
A fourth meeting will be held in Chicago in 2016, returning
to the United States where the process was launched by Obama.
"We still have a lot more work to do to fulfil the ambitious
goals we set four years ago to fully secure all nuclear and
radiological material, civilian and military," Obama said.
To drive home the importance of being prepared, the hosts
sprang a surprise by organising a simulation game for the
leaders in which they were asked to react to a fictitious
nuclear attack or accident in a made-up state, officials
Analysts say that radical groups could theoretically build a
crude but deadly nuclear bomb if they had the money,
technical knowledge and fissile substances needed.
Obtaining weapons-grade nuclear material - HEU or plutonium -
poses the biggest challenge for militants, so it must be kept
secure both at civilian and military sites, they say.
Around 2,000 tonnes of highly-radioactive materials are
spread across hundreds of sites in 25 countries. Most of the
materials is under military control but a significant
quantity is stored in less secured civilian locations, the
Since 1991, the number of countries with nuclear
weapons-usable material has roughly halved from some 50.
However, more than 120 research and isotope production
reactors around the world still use HEU for fuel or targets,
many of them with "very modest" security measures, a Harvard
Kennedy School report said this month.
"With at least two and possibly three groups having pursued
nuclear weapons in the past quarter century, they are not
likely to be the last," the report said.
Referring to a push to use low-enriched uranium (LEU) as fuel
in research and other reactor types instead of HEU, the
summit statement said: "We encourage states to continue to
minimise the use of HEU through the conversion of reactor
fuel from HEU to LEU, where technically and economically
"Similarly, we will continue to encourage and support efforts
to use non-HEU technologies for the production of
radio-isotopes, including financial incentives," it said.
An apple-sized amount of plutonium in a nuclear device and
detonated in a highly populated area could instantly kill or
wound hundreds of thousands of people, according to the
Nuclear Security Governance Experts Group (NSGEG) lobby
But a so-called "dirty bomb" is seen as a more likely threat
than an atomic bomb: conventional explosives are used to
disperse radiation from a radioactive source, which can be
found in hospitals or other places that may not be very well
In December, Mexican police found a truck they suspected was
stolen by common thieves and which carried a radioactive
medical material that could have provided such an ingredient.
In another incident that put nuclear security in the
spotlight and embarrassed US officials, an elderly nun and
two peace activists have admitted breaking into a Tennessee
defence facility in 2012 where uranium for atomic bombs is