with the Nuclear Security Summit happening I thought to myself : What better way to end the week than prophecy of nuclear disaster. That’s at least what our Mondays usually feel like, right ?
Shortly into his presidency Barrack Obama presented his vision of nuke-free and safer world. With the Iran deal going on, undeniably, we have made some progress towards that. This summit should be a victory march for the administration (or a lap, i guess, since the table at NSS is round-shaped), but it is not so. If fact it is rather a disappointment from one reason specifically. Russia did not bother to come. Sure, there are 56 attendees including all of the nuclear nations, but here’s the thing. Nuclear material is like bed bugs, if you don’t get them all at once, it is like you never tried.
According to some reports Russia owns up to 8-10’000 nuclear warheads (5000 in the most modest estimates) and who knows how much nuclear material in total. It is surely awfully nice of them to bring it down from Soviet era’s 40’000 pieces and vow to non-proliferation and dismantlement, but, as we should already know, Russia finds putting money where its mouth is very difficult (I guess that is justifiable now when their economy is collapsing and the rouble is becoming junk). Traditionally any Russian institution that is not solely devoted to lining pockets of the regime receives low funding and that includes institutions that take care of Russian nuclear material. As stated in CIA report from 2002 just in the 90s Russia lost at least 2 kg of highly-enriched uranium and who knows how much of it has gone missing since, considering the classic Russian love for transparency. I am not an expert, but i’d say that having any amount of enriched uranium unaccounted for is probably not a good thing.
The fact supporting my assumption that the issue of safety of Russian nuclear material hasn’t been solved and is very much on the table was presented by Rose Gottemoeller (U.S. Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security) in his remarks to the Nuclear Security Working Group at the NSS 2016 in Washington. Undersecretary Gottemoeller (I guess names of people and their positions at work must match in complexity) mentioned in his speech cases of smuggling of uranium in Moldova and Georgia from 2010 and 2011. I guess it’s clear where the uranium came from and keep in mind those are only the cases we found out about.
Russia has pretty much unrestricted influence over the region containing Georgia, Moldova and parts of Ukraine and without its full cooperation illegal smuggling will never be stopped and the world will never be nuke-free. That is why I would call Nuclear Security Summit a failure. Just like Huckleberry Finn only imagined being in a band of robbers and robbing fortunes, President Obama is just imagining his nuclear-free world.
To end on a positive note I would also like to mention one fruitful effort by the U.S., UK and EU. A landmark swap of nuclear material has been negotiated. UK will ship 700kg of its uranium to U.S. and the U.S. will send back its nuclear waste that will be then converted in France into material useful in diagnosis and treatment of certain kinds of cancer. At least if we cannot make the world safer it is a good thing that we are at least making it healthier.