Nuclear terrorism a global threat

UAE among 52 countries at security summit starting on Friday in Washington, DC.

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ABU DHABI // Tackling the threat of nuclear terrorism and other global issues will be among the key topics of discussion by the UAE delegation at the fourth, and final, Nuclear Security Summit that gets under way today in Washington DC.

Headed by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the UAE is one of 52 countries attending the summit.

“When you talk about nuclear security, there are global challenges,” said Hamad Alkaabi, UAE Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

“Nuclear terrorism is one of the main challenges that countries are dealing with and it’s not completely different to general terrorism. What we’ve seen in Brussels is a good example of why the work shouldn’t stop and being ahead as governments to ensure terrorist acts don’t happen, as well as preventing terrorists from gaining access to nuclear material because the consequences will be much worse than conventional explosions.”

Work is needed in terms of securing radioactive sources, Mr Alkaabi said.

“Sources are widely used in hospitals and universities where they are not necessarily being protected the same way as in nuclear facilities. So more attention should be put on having stronger measures for security of these sources.

“These can also be used for dirty bombs, which can have [dire] consequences if used by terrorists, so this requires continuous attention.”

Protecting nuclear facilities from cyberattacks was another concern.

“All these are becoming more important as threats in relation to these activities increase,” Mr Alkaabi said.

Since the previous summit, in 2014 in The Hague, the UAE has developed two new regulatory guides for the secure transport of nuclear material. It will also host an IAEA team this year to review the physical protection system of the country’s nuclear power plant.​

Although the summit is the last of its kind, ministerial meetings at the IAEA will continue to be held every few years.

“For us, throughout the summit process, which started in 2010, we committed to a lot of actions which we implemented,” Mr Alkaabi said.

“In 2014, we joined 23 countries in committing to strengthening the security of radioactive sources by 2016 and this is something we have already done, the regulation is in place. So we come to Washington playing an active role in strengthening the international architecture of nuclear security.”

Nuclear experts said leaders would want to ensure that mechanisms were in place to carry on the work of the previous summits.

“The summit focuses the attention of world leaders on a critical issue of international security, and for which they bear an undelegatable responsibility,” said William Tobey, a senior fellow at the Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University in the US.

“While there has been modest progress on nuclear security since the last summit, the capabilities and resources of terrorist groups such as ISIL has grown, suggesting that in a net assessment the threat has grown.”

He said the most important outcome of the summit would be for leaders to cement the concept that heads of state and governments remained responsible for the security of nuclear weapons and weapons-usable materials on their territories and that they would take the necessary steps to fulfil that responsibility.

“Nations will also make national and joint commitments to improve their ability to detect, secure and dispose of dangerous nuclear material,” Mr Tobey said.

“One such joint commitment will be professional training and demonstrable competence for those with responsibility for the security of fissile material, including through support of the World Institute for Nuclear Security Academy.”

Miles Pomper, a senior research associate at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in Washington, said some of the key topics on the agenda would be trying to prevent sabotage of nuclear facilities and eliminate or minimise the use of some key materials for nuclear weapons and dirty bombs, such as highly enriched uranium and high-risk radiological sources.

“The potential outcome of the summit is some small commitments on these issues and some progress, but not enough to really tackle the challenge of securing materials and protecting facilities.”