WASHINGTON – Justin Trudeau will be among the world leaders gathering to contemplate the spine-tingling scenario of terrorists getting hold of nuclear weapons.
The prime minister will be in Washington this week at the last of the nuclear-safety summits organized by President Barack Obama.
The leaders will close out the two-day event with a session that discusses a hypothetical nuclear-terrorism scenario.
But that conversation will be happening amid unnerving real-life events.
Belgium has just deployed soldiers to defend its nuclear facilities — after terrorist attacks in that country, and several incidents involving site personnel.
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Analysts believe al-Qaida and Japan’s Aum Shinrikyo have actively pursued nuclear weapons and they’ve begun expressing concern the so-called Islamic State might have similar designs.
“A terrorist attack with an improvised nuclear device would create political, economic, social, psychological and environmental havoc,” said Laura Holgate, a White House aide who oversees efforts to limit the threat from weapons of mass destruction.
“The impact of a nuclear terrorist attack would be global, and the solutions must therefore also be global.”
It’s the fourth such summit and flows from a speech President Barack Obama gave in Prague soon after he took office.
He expressed hope for a world without nuclear weapons — which he conceded might not be achievable in his lifetime.
But the 2009 speech set shorter-term targets. One was securing the existing nuclear material around the world; he convened international leaders’ meetings to make it a high-level priority.
The mixed results will be underscored by some glaring absences this week.
The Pakistani and Belgian leaders will be home dealing with the after-effects of terrorist attacks.
Russia’s Vladimir Putin is skipping the summit — he’ll be represented by observers. Russia says the U.S.-led process has run its course, and the issue should be left to the five international organizations working on it, including the UN, Interpol and the International Atomic Energy Agency.
As Obama leaves office, U.S. officials said the final summit communique will announce next steps leaders intend to take within those five organizations.
The Obama administration points to several successes these last few years:
- Enough fissile material to make 130 nuclear weapons has been removed or downgraded from 50 facilities in 30 countries.
- Fourteen countries and Taiwan have eliminated all nuclear material from their territory.
- Twenty countries have increased co-operation to counter nuclear smuggling.
But 2,000 metric tons of weapons-usable material remain in civilian and military programs, says the White House.
It would require 25 kilograms of highly enriched uranium to produce a nuclear bomb, former State Department official Sharon Squassoni told a briefing at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Numerous incidents involving nuclear-plant-staff have been reported just in Belgium.
A guard at one facility was shot dead in his home last week — although authorities say it wasn’t terrorism-related.
Security badges were just stripped from workers at a Belgian plant.
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Video footage of an official at a Belgian facility was discovered in the home of a suspected militant linked to killers from the Nov. 13 Paris attacks.
Belgium’s nuclear agency had its computer system hacked and briefly shut down this year.
Two employees at a plant near Brussels reportedly joined jihadists in Syria. One was killed, another arrested.
A new study cites three potential ways terrorists could launch a nuclear attack.
They could attack facilities — perhaps by hacking their computers, says the study for the Harvard Kennedy School.
They could explode a so-called dirty bomb involving radioactive waste, which might not kill anyone but, the study says, could cause billions in damage.
The hardest to pull off would be the most devastating: an actual nuclear weapon in the hands of terrorists.
“The consequences of detonation of even a crude terrorist nuclear bomb would be severe, turning the heart of a modern city into a smoldering radioactive ruin and sending reverberating economic and political aftershocks around the world,” said the study.
Canada is deemed to have a better-than-average track record on nuclear safety.
Canada is third among 24 countries for the safety of its materials, according to an international non-profit organization that tracks nuclear-security trends.
It scored above-average in 18 different categories, like on-site protection and cyber security, according to the 2016 Nuclear Threat Initiative’s security index.
But it was middle-of-the-pack in two categories: dispersal of quantities and sites, and in potential terrorist presence.
“We are committed to working with the international community to prevent nuclear terrorism — a very real social, political, economic, and environmental threat,” Trudeau said in a statement.