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Published: Sunday, 4/18/2010

Locked-up nukes

PRESIDENT Obama achieved positive results this week at the conference he hosted on nuclear security, but they should not be overrated in terms of practical impact.

The two-day summit in Washington, attended by heads of state and other leaders of 47 countries, resulted in a useful agreement with significant potential. Perhaps its greatest achievement was in raising consciousness of the problem.

One notable absentee was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel is likely one of eight states - along with China, France, India, Pakistan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States - that possesses nuclear weapons. Five of them have signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty; India, Israel, and Pakistan have not.

Israel denies that it possesses such weapons, even though in 2006 Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said, in a slip of the tongue, that it did; the government then quickly backtracked. Mr. Netanyahu reportedly was concerned that Egypt and Turkey intended to raise the subject at this week's security conference, so he sent a lower-ranking official to represent Israel.

Neither Iran nor North Korea, both aspiring nuclear powers, was invited.

The attendees agreed to take necessary measures to secure or eliminate their nuclear stocks in the next four years, which would help keep nuclear material out of the hands of potential terrorists.

The goal is commendable and clearly in the best interests of the world. It's also good news that the world's leaders will confer on the subject again in South Korea in 2012. But the obvious problem lies in implementation.

In the United States alone are 15 civilian research reactors that use highly enriched uranium, the essential ingredient in nuclear weapons. The rest of the world has 130 such reactors - some of them in Belarus, Iran, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Nigeria and Uzbekistan and some on civilian ships.

A second problem is that some of the countries will ask the United States for money to achieve security for their nuclear stocks and reactors. America will find it hard to refuse if it is serious about the project.

All in all, what Mr. Obama achieved with the conference, in raising awareness and acquiring pledges, was definitely worth the effort. Now comes the hard part.



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