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World: Countries Discuss Nuclear-Terrorism Measures

By Breffni O'Rourke

February 13, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Turkey is playing host to an international gathering that brings together nuclear and non-nuclear countries in an effort to prevent fissile material falling into the hands of terrorists.

The "Global Initiative To Combat Nuclear Terrorism" aims to improve accounting and control of stocks of enriched uranium and plutonium.

The five major nuclear powers plus Kazakhstan, Turkey, and several other countries are meeting in Ankara on February 12-13 to strengthen international efforts to prevent terrorists obtaining the components for nuclear weapons.

This is the second meeting of the initiative, which was formed by the United States and Russia in mid-2006 to wage a systematic campaign against sloppy control of high-grade fissile materials.

Focus On Russia

The head of security studies at the Chatham House think tank in London, Paul Cornish, says the real danger comes from small stocks of these nuclear materials scattered around, for instance, in university laboratories. Typically, some 10 or 20 kilograms of enriched uranium might be held at a research laboratory under lax security.

Cornish says Russia is presently having the most difficulty in keeping control of its fissile materials.

"But I have to say that Russia has been doing an enormous amount of work in the last five or 10 years, with a lot of help from the international community, to tighten up its stores," Cornish adds. "Let's not forget that leakages of nuclear material have also happened in the West."

The threat is that a terrorist group could collect enough fissile material from laboratories, or even from unguarded waste sites, to make a crude nuclear device. Cornish says a competent knowledge of engineering should be sufficient to allow construction of a bomb or a radiation-polluting device.

He says he doesn't consider it likely that any terrorists are going to be able to manufacture complex nuclear weapons.

"Of course, if you want to enrich your own uranium, you need a massive enrichment process, in several stages, and you just can't do that sort of thing in a few caves," he says. "And if you want plutonium, you need a nuclear power reactor; these are enormous undertakings."

Medium-Range Missiles

Countries attending the Ankara meeting are the big five nuclear powers -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France -- plus Kazakhstan, Japan, Morocco, Canada, Australia, and host Turkey.

The talks coincide with rising concerns about proliferation of another sort, namely the spread of medium-range missiles.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov put it colorfully when speaking to journalists in the German city of Munich on February 11. He said medium-range missiles "have proliferated like mushrooms after rain."

Ivanov counted India, Pakistan, China, North Korea, Iran, and Israel as having rockets of this category. And he said it's time for Moscow and Washington to consider terminating their treaty that bans them from having medium-range missiles of their own.

The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty committed the United States and the Soviet Union to scrap all their weapons in this category. But Ivanov, as quoted by AP, said the pact is a "Cold War relic" at a time when "everybody else has a free hand."

Expanding The INF

Shannon Kile, a senior analyst with the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, says the INF was a "milestone" in disarmament terms. At the time, it did away with an entire class of weaponry and paved the way for the later strategic-arms talks between the two countries.

"Repealing the INF treaty would be a major step backward for nuclear-disarmament efforts," Kile says.

Instead of Russia seeking abrogation of the treaty, Kile suggests it would be more constructive to do the reverse.

"The emphasis should be on extending or expanding the coverage of the INF treaty to capture these new states of proliferation concern, particularly North Korea and Iran, but also a number of other states in the Middle East and Asia, which are developing ballistic-missile capabilities," he says. "It seems to me that would be the direction we should be heading."

Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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