Fact Sheet: 2012 Nuclear Security Summit Preview

By Duyeon Kim



March 26-27, 2012 in Seoul, Korea


The 2012 Seoul Nuclear Security Summit aims to strengthen and deepen nuclear security commitments made at the 2010 Washington Summit. The objective of the summit process is to prevent vulnerable fissile materials that can be used to produce nuclear weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists and non-state actors with malicious intent. The goal is the protection of nuclear materials and facilities to help prevent them from being stolen or diverted to terrorist groups and non-state actors. There have been 20 confirmed cases of theft or loss of fissile material. The nuclear threat is real, and al-Qaeda is reportedly interested in obtaining WMD and know-how. There are over 100 civilian nuclear reactors in the world that still run on HEU, and many civilian facilities that store fissile materials have less stringent seucirty measures that military facilities.

The 2012 Summit comes just over a year after the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, though many countries still continue to opt for nuclear power to meet their energy demands.

President Barack Obama vowed to secure all nuclear materials within four years and work toward a nuclear-free world in his famous April 2009 Prague speech. He hosted the first Nuclear Security Summit in 2010 attended by 47 states and three international organizations that produced a Communiqué and <a “=”” href=”https://armscontrolcenter.org/policy/nuclearterrorism/articles/2010_nuclear_security_summit_work_plan/”>”Work Plan, which included National Commitments (also called “house gifts”). At the end of the 2010 Summit, Obama asked South Korean President Lee Myung-bak to host the second summit.

So far, about 80% of the national commitments pledged at the 2010 Summit have been achieved.

The value of the Nuclear Security Summit process is that it brings together:

  • Nuclear weapons states and non-nuclear weapons states.
  • Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty signatories and non-NPT states (India, Pakistan, Israel).
  • Countries with nuclear power and countries that want to possess nuclear power to meet their energy needs.

The core value of the process is to provide an international forum at the highest level of government to strengthen global nuclear materials security and prevent nuclear terrorism. It’s the first of its kind, though much larger and diverse in scale, since the first-ever nuclear security summit in Moscow among the Group of Seven leaders and Russia in 1996.

The third summit will be held in the Netherlands in 2014.


Leaders from 53 states and 4 international organizations (total 58 head delegates):

Chair: Republic of Korea

Algeria, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Gabon, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, UAE, UK, Ukraine, USA, Vietnam.

United Nations (UN), International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and European Union (EU).

INTERPOL – added as agreed upon between the participating countries and international organizations.

* “Sherpa” is a term given to the head delegate and “Sous Sherpa” to the deputy delegate of each country’s Nuclear Security Summit Team who are in charge of setting the Summit agenda and drafting the Communiqué.


Three main umbrella issues will be discussed at the 2012 Seoul Summit:

  1. Cooperative measures to combat the threat of nuclear terrorism.
  2. Protection of nuclear materials and related facilities.
  3. Prevention of illicit trafficking of nuclear materials.

If the 2010 Washington Summit was the conceptualization summit, then the 2012 Seoul Summit can be seen as the implementation summit. The key is how much farther and deeper countries will go in their nuclear security initiatives.


Seoul Communiqué – 11-point political commitment among world leaders on nuclear and radiological security to be announced on March 27.

-It’s expected to include:

  1. Efforts to minimize fissile materials (HEU, plutonium).
  2. Safe management of fissile and radioactive materials.
  3. Physical protection of nuclear facilities.
  4. Prevention of illicit trafficking of nuclear and radioactive materials.
  5. Nuclear safety and security interface.
  6. Strengthening information security, nuclear detection and forensics.
  7. Expansion of universal adherence to nuclear security conventions.
  8. Strengthening the IAEA, international organizations, and multilateral cooperation on nuclear security.
  9. Actions to prevent nuclear and radiological terrorism.

-The drafting of the Communiqué was based on five underlying principles:

  1. Placing nuclear security at the center of the discussion.
  2. Ensuring the continuity of the Washington Nuclear Security Summit, while at the same time, making new progress.
  3. Ensuring the voluntary nature of national commitments and participation.
  4. Opting against the creation of a new regime.
  5. Respecting President Obama’s vision to secure all vulnerable nuclear material in four years.

National Commitments – pledges by heads of state on how they will strengthen nuclear security.

*“Gift baskets” – joint statements by like-minded countries on nuclear security commitments and initiatives.

* The 2010 Washington Nuclear Security Summit produced two documents: a Communiqué and Work Plan. “House gifts,” national commitments on nuclear security, were presented at the 2010 Summit. This year, there will be one combined document, the Seoul Communiqué. The reason for not producing two documents is to ensure that detailed actions, which typically would be included in a separate document, are not treated as an Annex, or “side note.”

  • Expectations include:
  1. A status check of the 2010 Summit results and assessment of progress on national commitment.
  2. An examination of 2012 “gift baskets.”
  3. Elevating radiological materials: This topic was given lesser importance at the 2010 Summit.
  4. Including the nuclear safety and security interface: In the wake of the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, Korea and participating countries have decided to include this nexus at the 2012 Summit.
  5. Commitments by more countries to minimize the use of highly enriched uranium (HEU) in the civilian sector: About 8-10 countries are expected to commit to HEU minimization and conversion of HEU fuel to low-enriched uranium (LEU).
  6. Enhanced bilateral, regional, and multilateral cooperation to strengthen nuclear materials security.
  7. Delivery of “gift baskets” pledging bilateral or multi-lateral commitments on key issues like HEU conversion, information security, transportation security, etc.


Sherpa and Sous-Sherpa Meetings:

  1. June 27-28, 2011 Seoul (Sous-Sherpas)
  2. October 4-5, 2011 Helsinki
  3. January 16-17, 2012 New Delhi
  4. March 23, 2012 Seoul


  • Progress made in fulfilling commitments from the 2010 Summit
  • New “gift baskets” (national, bilateral, multilateral commitments) that strengthen and deepen nuclear security, including new material removals and HEU reactor conversions, ratification of nuclear security conventions and amendments, and more.
  • Heads of state putting down new money to fund and implement nuclear security programs.


  • Sustaining nuclear security initiatives: This places the burden of proof on all states to implement their nuclear security pledges as well as on Seoul and Washington as incumbent and former Chairs to lead the process.
  • Maintaining a sense of urgency and awareness of the terrorism threat. However, a nuclear or radiological catastrophe will severely damage life and the economy.
  • Summit fatigue among heads of state: There are already questions as to whether the Summit process needs to continue regularly or be absorbed by existing frameworks, for example within the IAEA.
  • Moving beyond the current voluntary and patchwork nature of the current material security architecture toward the creation of a more global regime and governance, beginning with the development of a baseline standard for the security of nuclear material.
  • Gaps in perception among countries: Some insist on sovereignty while others insist on agreeing on a baseline standard.
  • The U.S. and other key countries have not ratified two critical conventions:

-Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials (CPPNM) 2005 Amendment.

-International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (ICSANT).

  • Public attention and interest: In Korea’s case, the Summit immediately precedes the April 11th parliamentary elections; there is strong opposition to the Summit by the opposition party and anti-nuclear activists, and some major media outlets are on strike. Many other countries are also pre-occupied by domestic politics and economic policies.
  • The focus of the NSS is non-state actors but measures also need to be devised to deal with transactions between non-state actors and states.
  • Cooperation with the private sector to implement nuclear security measures: Governments can devise policies but the private sector plays an integral role in properly implementing them.


North Korea and Iran are not official agenda issues because they would disrupt and detract attention from the core focus of the Summit: nuclear security and the prevention of fissile materials from falling into terrorist hands. But these issues will be discussed on the sidelines of the Summit among like-minded countries who may send a strong message to the North in the wake of its announced plans to launch a rocket in April. North Korea was verbally invited by South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on condition that the regime takes sincere steps toward denuclearization first. Iran was not invited to the 2010 Washington Summit as it was perceived as a possible spoiler in international discussion to secure vulnerable nuclear materials.