President Obama's final, so-called "Nuclear Security Summit" will take place in Washington, D.C. on March 31st and April 1st. But the entire focus for the 50 heads of state in attendance will be on locking down weapons-usable nuclear materials, namely separated Plutonium-239 and highly enriched Uranium-235 (HEU).
As an IPS article reports, this is nothing new. In fact, the Nuclear Security Summits have not even done a very good job of covering even this narrow focus. Dr. M.V. Ramana, a Beyond Nuclear advisory board member, is reported as saying:
To start with, he said, all the Security summits have been very narrowly focused on just civilian HEU (Highly Enriched Uranium). Occasionally there is some talk about plutonium, but this is more the exception than the rule.
President Obama has just published a Nuclear Security Summit-related op-ed in the Washington Post, which raises more perplexing questions than it answers.
The New York Times has also reported on the global status of nuclear weapons-usable material risks, in light of the current Nuclear Security Summit. One remarkable passage quotes a U.S. Department of Energy official admitting he drank vodka during the shipment of weapons-usable highly enriched uranium out of Ukraine! (Non-proliferating under the influence?!)
In his famous Prague speech of spring 2009, President Obama infamously declared that nuclear weapons abolition would not happen in his lifetime. (The phrase was used in the title of a documentary film which critically examines the risks of the Atomic Age, and what people can do, and are doing, about it.)
And now, Obama hasn't even put nuclear weapons abolition on the agenda for this final Nuclear Security Summit of his presidency. This, even though the United States -- the only country to ever use nuclear weapons against cities (Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan in August 1945) -- committed to abolish its nuclear weapons arsenal, in good faith, by signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, four long decades ago.
In an attempt to return nuclear weapons abolition to the world leaders' radar screen, Global Zero has called for a street protest and rally outside the Nuclear Security Summit on April 1st, featuring an inflatable mock nuclear missile.
On March 28th (the 37th anniversary of the Three Mile Island meltdown), Beyond Nuclear joined more than 175 groups from Japan, the U.S., and other countries in sending a letter to Japanese Prime Minister Abe. The groups called on Abe to reconsider plans to reprocess high-level radioactive waste at Rokkasho. Japan would be the only country without a nuclear weapons arsenal to reprocess high-level radioactive waste -- an activity that could give Japan enough separated plutonium to manufacture countless nuclear weapons. Japan has the technological prowess (including advanced missile technology) that -- with the necessary ingredient, separated plutonium -- it could manufacture a large arsenal of deliverable nuclear weapons in a very short period of time.
Japan's "peace constitution" currently forbids any such thing. But elements of the right wing in Japan have long supported keeping the nuclear weapons option open.
Prominent signatories of the letter to Abe include Hibakusha groups, survivors (and their descendants) of the United States' atomic bombings of Japan. (These groups have unanimously called for the abolition of not only nuclear weapons, but also nuclear power, in the aftermath of the Fukushima catastrophe.)
Japan's policy to separate weapons-usable plutonium from high-level radioactive waste risks nuclear weapons proliferation not only at home, but in other countries, such as South Korea. Other countries could respond in kind to Japan's provocative precedent. Japan's reprocessing policy risks increasing the volatility of its already tense East Pacific neighborhood (including nuclear armed China and North Korea), not to mention other international hot spots.
As Tom Clements has warned at the SRS Watch website, a "Nuclear Security Summit Effect" seems to be under way. The Obama administration appears to be moving nuclear materials, from numerous countries overseas, to Savannah River Site (SRS), South Carolina so that it can claim non-proliferation victories. But the materials are coming from relatively secure places, and could be much better secured right where they originated. Instead, the shipments -- by road, rail, and/or waterway -- are increasing the risks of accidental, or intentional (as in terrorist attacks), catastrophic releases of hazardous radioactivity, or diversion/theft of nuclear weapons-usable materials while in transit.
As Clements has documented at the SRS Watch website, "Nuclear Security Summit Effect" shipments to SRS include:
- Canadian liquid high-level [radioactive] waste to SRS: Why has DOE staunchly refused to analyze the viable option of denaturing the HEU [highly enriched uranium] contents in Canada?
- German graphite spent fuel to SRS: Why proceed with the import plans of the AVR & THTR gas-cooled reactor spent fuel when the NNSA [U.S. Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration] has determined that there is no proliferation risk of it staying in Germany?
- Swiss plutonium - 20 kg - to SRS: Why was this non-U.S.-origin material imported when it was of low risk for nuclear weapons and should have stayed in Switzerland or gone to the massive plutonium stockpiles in France or the UK?
- Import of 331 kilograms of plutonium from Japan to SRS: What will be said at the summit about the stockpile of 10.8 MT [Metric Tons] of weapon-usable plutonium in Japan, efforts to stockpile more plutonium by operating the Rokkasho reprocessing plant and why 231 kg of UK-origin plutonium is being dumped on SRS?
As reported by AP, the Japanese weapons-usable plutonium shipment, still en route by ship on the high seas, has led to the Republican Governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, calling on the Energy Secretary, Ernest Moniz, to divert or "return to sender" the shipment.
Unfortunately, however, Gov. Haley's statement comes in the context of the Republican leadership of South Carolina -- including both U.S. Senators, Linsdsey Graham and Tim Scott -- calling for continued billion dollar boondoggle taxpayer funding for the white elephant known as the Mox Fuel Fabrication Facility (MFFF) at SRS.
(And Sen. Graham is responsible for South Carolina "dumping on itself." He did the dirty work for DOE in 2004 -- allowing high-level radioactive waste sludges to be abandoned in underground storage tanks at SRS. In 200 years or so, so much Strontium-90 will leak from the corroded tanks and failing grout, that the Savannah River will be unfit to drink, per Safe Drinking Water Act limits on Sr-90 concentration.)
Mox is short for Mixed Oxide (Uranium-Plutonium) nuclear fuel. The MFFF would convert many tons of excess U.S. weapons-usable plutonium into Mox nuclear fuel for commercial atomic reactor use. But the MFFF is billions of dollars over budget, and years behind schedule, with no end in sight. In fact, the MFFF construction may be fatally flawed. To its credit, the Obama administration is trying to zero out MFFF funding, to cut losses to the taxpayer. But the South Carolina Republicans are fiercely resisting the MFFF's inevitable demise.
The alternative for weapons-usable plutonium disposition? What anti-nuclear activists advocated 20 years ago: mix the separated plutonium back into the high-level radioactive waste from which it came in the first place, and treat it as what it is, ultra-hazardous high-level radioactive waste, requiring deep geologic disposal.
Nuclear power is also conspicuous by its absence from Obama's Nuclear Security Summit. Revelations from Belgium about the potentially catastrophic terrorist threats to commercial atomic reactors, is just the latest example of nuclear power's inherent security risks. They are ignored at everyone's great peril.
Thom Hartmann hosted Beyond Nuclear's Kevin Kamps on his television program The Big Picture. On Thom's "The Best of the Rest of the News" (from the 44 minutes 45 seconds mark to the 52 minutes 08 seconds mark), Thom asks Kevin "Is Obama's Nuke Summit a Sham?"