WASHINGTON – Canada is contributing $42 million to global efforts to protect nuclear materials and keep them away from terrorists.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was among several world leaders making similar commitments Friday at a nuclear safety summit in Washington, an event aimed at sustaining nuclear safety as a long-term international priority.
The summit is the last of four organized during the presidency of Barack Obama, who made the issue a priority amid signs that al-Qaida and other terrorist groups were actively seeking nuclear weapons.
It’s now incumbent on the international community to make sure those efforts continue after Obama leaves office, Trudeau suggested Friday.
“Risks associated with terrorist groups getting their hands on nuclear material are not restricted to any one country,” he said.
“The challenge is certainly going to be in the coming years, we need to make sure we’re continuing our efforts.”
The Canadian contribution will go to different places. It will help individual countries store nuclear materials, providing training and equipment in Mexico, Peru, Jordan and Colombia; will help protect sites in Ukraine, Thailand and Egypt; and will also go to international organizations that work on the issue like Interpol and the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The Obama-led summits have prompted a flurry of promises and activities. But even their organizers acknowledge they didn’t complete the job. The world’s largest holder of nuclear weapons, Russia, didn’t even bother participating in this final meeting amid ongoing tensions with the U.S.
Obama began the meeting by repeating the same quote from Albert Einstein that he cited at the first summit in 2010: That the unleashed power of the atom has changed everything, and that a new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive.
He said the summits had prompted 260 commitments from countries, three-quarters of which had been achieved. More than a dozen nations have removed all their highly enriched uranium. Others have better protection and security procedures.
No terrorist group has yet succeeded at obtaining such materials. But they have tried.
Al-Qaida has actively pursued nuclear material, Obama said. There are also indications that sympathizers of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant have been interested in Belgium’s nuclear sites: some former employees have gone to fight in Syria, and one man linked to the Nov. 13 Paris attackers had been surveilling a plant employee.
“There is no doubt that if these madmen ever got their hands on a nuclear bomb or nuclear material they most certainly would use it to kill as many innocent people as possible,” Obama said.
“Just the smallest amount of plutonium – about the size of an apple – could kill and injure hundreds of thousands of innocent people. It would be a humanitarian, political, economic, and environmental catastrophe with global ramifications for decades.
“It would change our world. So we cannot be complacent.”
He said roughly 2,000 tonnes of nuclear material remains around the world, not all of it properly secured. He said the U.S. would release a detailed description of its own security measures to help other countries follow suit, and would also provide a public inventory of its highly enriched uranium stockpiles.
Trudeau made the announcement while visiting a booth set up at the conference by a Canadian company. Bubble Technology Industries of Chalk River, Ont., has invented a radiation-detection kit that can be plugged into a smartphone.
The prime minister also held bilateral meetings Friday with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and Britain’s David Cameron.
Modi congratulated the prime minister on his election win, and subsequent engagement with India: “I’m seeing that after you have become the prime minister there has been a new energy, a new dynamism… in our relations.”