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Print Edition> World
UPDATED: March 26, 2012 NO. 13 MARCH 29, 2012
Safeguarding Nuclear Development
The Seoul Nuclear Security Summit advances the nuclear security and safety agenda amid numerous challenges
By Teng Jianqun

In the meantime, however, regional nuclear issues have turned worse. Iran has produced uranium enriched to a purity level of 20 percent. North Korea has made public its light water reactor and uranium enrichment projects. Also, the Fukushima nuclear disaster has drawn much attention to the safety of civilian nuclear facilities. These new developments have distracted attention from Washington's initiatives to combat nuclear terrorism and protecting fissile materials. Though nuclear terrorism is widely seen as a grave threat to the world, other countries have not completely followed Washington's lead.

Given changes in the international nuclear security situation, two issues became prominent ahead of the Seoul summit. The first one is civilian nuclear facility security. When discussing the agenda of the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit, South Korea had different views with Western countries. It insisted civilian nuclear facility security be included because of radiation leaks at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in March 2011. Despite U.S. objection, organizers decided to combine the discussions of combating nuclear terrorism and protecting civilian nuclear facilities at the summit.

The second factor is the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue. Last year, former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il visited China and Russia. North Korea also had talks with Japan. In July 2011, U.S.-North Korean talks resumed. The two sides finally reached an agreement in late February this year that Pyongyang would shelve its nuclear program in exchange for food aid from Washington. South Korea and the United States, however, continued to hold their annual joint military exercises. Ongoing tensions on the Korean Peninsula created negative repercussions on the Seoul summit.

China's involvement

China calls for strengthened international cooperation to combat nuclear terrorism. At the UN Security Council Summit on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament in September 2009, President Hu Jintao stressed all UN member states should strictly observe international conventions and laws on nuclear security and take concrete steps for the protection of nuclear facilities and materials. In his speech at the Washington Nuclear Security Summit in 2010, President Hu said China attaches great importance to nuclear security, firmly opposes nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism and has made continuous efforts to that end.

The Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, which took effect in 1987, is the only legally binding international agreement on the protection of nuclear materials. The initial objective of the convention was protecting nuclear materials during international transportation. After an amendment in 2005, articles on the protection of civilian nuclear facilities and materials were added to the convention. China is a contracting party to the convention and approved the 2005 amendment in 2009.

China has long been a partner of the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism. The initiative aims to strengthen global capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to nuclear terrorism by conducting multilateral activities that strengthen the plans, policies, procedures and interoperability of partner nations. China also took an active part in the discussion and adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1540. The resolution has played an important role in promoting international non-proliferation cooperation and preventing non-state actors from acquiring weapons of mass destruction since it was passed in 2004.

Since joining the IAEA in 1984, China has cooperated closely with the nuclear watchdog. Since 1998, China and the IAEA have jointly conducted at least 20 training and academic exchange programs. The IAEA has dispatched more than 20 experts to China, while more than 30 Chinese students have received IAEA training overseas. The IAEA also provides consultations to China on preventing and coping with radiation accidents. During the Beijing Olympic Games, the IAEA not only sent advisors to China but also provided equipment necessary to ensure nuclear security during the event.

Injustices in the international order, flaws in international conventions, non-state actors' covetousness of nuclear materials and the rapid growth of the nuclear energy industry have posed daunting challenges to global nuclear security. How to engage countries in a joint effort to cope with these challenges is no longer a simple technical issue but an important international political issue.

The author is a research fellow with the China Institute of International Studies

Email us at: yulintao@bjreview.com

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