April 14, 2010
WASHINGTON–In a final flurry of carefully orchestrated pledges, world leaders nudged the nuclear genie back toward the bottle, one blob of plutonium at a time.
And for that alone, considerable praise is flowing today in the direction of U.S. President Barack Obama, who, weapons experts remind us, was under no obligation to stick his neck out with a global summit on nuclear security.
Basking in Obama's glow is
But get past the pats on the back, wade deep into the actual three-page communiqué, and the wow factor turns to whoa – as in, whoa, these 47 national delegations actually think they will lock down vulnerable weapons-grade uranium and plutonium in four years?
"I'm all for setting audacious goals, but there has to be some reality around it. If you truly appreciate the sheer amount of nuclear material we are talking about, four years is beyond ambitious," said Pekka Sinervo, of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.
"I would still offer guarded praise – but add a splash of reality. There's a real attempt here at creating momentum in the right direction. That's great. But not everything is quite as exciting as it sounds," the nuclear proliferation expert said.
Sinervo points, for example, to
"That already happened. And then they reopened it when the replacement heat-generating plant wasn't ready on time. So this actually is shutdown number two for this project. But it makes for great copy," said Sinervo.
"It is inspiring to see each nation challenged to contribute and rising to the challenge. The one thing I was looking for is momentum toward legislating our way out of this nuclear mess. As I look through the list of countries, I have to conclude it is there."
Said former senator Douglas Roche, a veteran of the Canadian disarmament movement: "It is hard to imagine Obama going further than he did. Just getting 47 leaders to agree to at least a general statement of this kind means he has done more than any other
In a joint communiqué, leaders agreed to non-binding measures to "secure all vulnerable nuclear material in four years" and to "prevent non-state actors from obtaining the information or technology required to use such material."
They pledged also to deepen cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency and share data on nuclear detection and ways to prevent nuclear trafficking. Progress toward those goals is to be measured in 2012, when
Obama called the outcome "a testament of what is possible when nations come together in a spirit of partnership to embrace our shared responsibility and confront a shared challenge."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper pointed to two hard commitments – an agreement to return a large portion of Canada's cache of weapons-grade uranium to the United States for reprocessing, and a "Three Amigos" deal that will see Canada partner with Washington to help Mexico work toward replacing its present-day research reactor with a new low-enriched uranium-fuelled plant.
In closing remarks, Obama told reporters that the
Harper later clarified, saying it wasn't