World leaders are coming together at The Hague in the Netherlands next week for the Nuclear Security Summit to talk about what Barack Obama called “one of the greatest threat to international security”: nuclear terrorism.
That does sound eerie, doesn’t it? But when you think about it, what exactly is nuclear terrorism? Who are these nuclear terrorists? I’ve searched all over the Summit’s official website, but found no answer.
What I did find is a lot of vague statements about securing nuclear materials so “they will not fall into the hands of terrorists”.
Nations like the US and Russia have stockpiles of nuclear weapons that could end the existence of mankind many times over. But these countries are apparently not a threat. Instead, they get applauded for initiating a world summit on nuclear terrorism.
For future reference: if you are a nation, having nuclear bombs makes you powerful. If you are not, having nuclear bombs or even nuclear material makes you a potential terrorist. With exception to North-Korea and Iran, of course, who are regarded as terrorists either way.
Maybe that’s why Pyongyang decided not to attend? As the Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte put it, problematic countries would only “slow down the process”, saying, “With kindred spirits, at least we can get somewhere.” Probably true, but I thought the point was to go forward, not just ”somewhere”.
The international Non-Proliferation Treaty stands on two legs: one is that no additional country will seek to gain possession of nuclear weapons; the second and equally important principle is that those who already have nuclear weapons will dismantle them. We have seen lots of controversy and sanctions around the first, but a staggering silence on the latter.
The issue of nuclear disarmament, however obvious, is again not on the agenda at the summit. It’s a sensitive subject for many participants who are not ready to give up their privileged status.
There will also be no discussion on nuclear power. Having nuclear reactors is regarded as a fundamental right for every nation. This right is fiercely defended by countries like the US, France and Russia, who have billions to gain from selling nuclear reactors to foreign markets.
That you are simultaneously selling vital knowledge, fissile material and equipment enabling nuclear weapon proliferation is considered a small price to pay.
Even the fact that you could easily paint a bulls eye on every nuclear reactor dome in the world to highlight how vulnerable the ageing global reactor fleet is to a potential terrorist attack does not seem to worry our world leaders too much.
So what does keep them up at night? Mainly the security of nuclear waste, especially medical waste. There have been numerous incidents where nuclear material was ”displaced”, embarrassing the nuclear industry and the nations advocating the industry. So now everyone is coming together to talk about security of nuclear material.
No talks however about how to diminish the vast amounts of spent fuel containing plutonium generated by nuclear power plants. No discussion on hazards of unnecessary transports back and forth of that plutonium. Just some pillow talk between nuclear nations on how to build a bigger fence around the nuclear industry.
There is nothing wrong with trying to secure the nuclear materials we already have. But there are more pressing issues to discuss at a world summit on nuclear security than this one.
It’s an abomination that world leaders are coming together without addressing any of the fundamental issues that need leadership so badly: nuclear disarmament, nuclear energy and the production of nuclear waste.
The world will never be safe from nuclear terrorism if world leaders are doing everything in their power to keep the nuclear industry alive and expand their markets.
If you really want to make sure terrorists don’t go nuclear, make sure there is no nuclear to go to.
(Jorien de Lege is a Climate & Energy campaigner for Greenpeace Netherlands)
[Image. Peace Doves – Hiroshima Atomic Bombing 60th Anniversary, Japan 2005. © Greenpeace / Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert]
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