by Kingston Reif
Published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Online on September 15, 2011
Article summary below; read the full text online
By Kingston Reif and Miles Pomper
While Washington, DC, is paralyzed by partisanship on most topics, there is one issue that commands overwhelming bipartisan agreement: the threat posed to US national security by nuclear terrorism.
Earlier this year, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper noted that “poorly secured stocks of CBRN [chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear materials] provide potential source material for terror attacks.” Osama bin Laden may be dead, but ten years after the terrorist attacks on Washington and New York City on September 11, 2001, the threat of nuclear terrorism is still alive.
To that end, in April 2010, President Barack Obama hosted a historic Nuclear Security Summit in Washington aimed at preventing nuclear terrorism. The 47 world leaders in attendance endorsed the four-year goal of securing all nuclear material worldwide and produced a communiqué and a detailed work plan, which called for a crackdown on nuclear trafficking, standards for securing plutonium and highly enriched uranium, and support for existing UN resolutions. Twenty-nine countries at the summit pledged to uphold more than 50 specific commitments to secure or eliminate nuclear materials. According to an April 2011 joint report released by the Arms Control Association and the Partnership for Global Security, roughly 60 percent of the national commitments made at the summit have been completed.
Of the summit commitments that remain unresolved, one stands out: the Obama administration’s pledge to accelerate efforts to complete US ratification procedures on both the 2005 Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) and the 2005 International Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (ICSANT), which would each expand and strengthen US efforts to prevent and combat nuclear terrorism. George W. Bush’s administration submitted the Conventions to the Senate in September 2007 — demonstrating the strong bipartisan support for the treaties — and the Senate overwhelmingly approved them in September 2008. However, prior to US ratification, both conventions require the United States to pass legislation to criminalize certain offenses, such as the possession of radioactive material other than nuclear material.