WASHINGTON, DC – Next week, more than 50 global leaders will gather in The Hague for the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit. This year’s conference marks the initiative’s third meeting since 2010, continuing a process that seeks to raise awareness about the threat of nuclear terrorism and catalyze much-needed action to secure the materials that terrorists would need to make a weapon. But time is running out.
Today, nearly 2,000 metric tons of plutonium and highly enriched uranium – the raw materials of a nuclear weapon – are spread across 25 countries. With an amount of plutonium the size of a grapefruit, or enough highly enriched uranium to fit into a five-pound bag of sugar, a terrorist could make a bomb that could level a city. We know that Al Qaeda, groups in the Northern Caucuses, and other terrorist organizations have tried to acquire these materials.
Despite the acknowledged threat, the international community still lacks agreement on the steps that should be taken to secure nuclear materials. While leaders have met at two previous Summits, they still have not delivered what the world needs to achieve robust and lasting confidence: a global system for securing nuclear materials that holds all states accountable to a set of common standards and best practices.
Because governments today generally approach security independently – developing their own national standards and regulations, with no requirement for mutual accountability regarding implementation – the state of nuclear-materials security around the world varies widely. In some places, it is entirely inadequate.