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Obama In South Korea For Nuclear Security Summit


President Barack Obama is in South Korea to take part in the Global Nuclear Security Summit. This is the second meeting of its kind since Mr. Obama took office. It brings together more than 50 national leaders taking stock of progress in safeguarding dangerous nuclear materials and discussing what else might need to be done to keep it out of the hands of terrorists. President Obama arrives in South Korea at a time of considerable tension. North Korea's threatening to carry out a long-range rocket launch next week, an action this country has warned it should not take. NPR's Mike Shuster reports from Seoul.

MIKE SHUSTER, BYLINE: President Obama set out to make the security of dangerous nuclear materials a centerpiece of his administration's national security policy. In 2009, he gave a speech about it in Prague. And the next year he convened the first Global Nuclear Security Summit in Washington with these words:

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Two decades after the end of the Cold War, we face a cruel irony of history. The risk of a nuclear confrontation between nations has gone down. But the risk of nuclear attack has gone up.

SHUSTER: The president then called on all nations to take concrete steps to protect the highly enriched uranium and plutonium they hold in hundreds of research reactors and other facilities around the world. There has been some progress. The administration's top official on nuclear proliferation, Gary Samore, pointed to what has been accomplished in a conference call from the White House a few days ago.

GARY SAMORE: We think we've got a very good score card in terms of countries carrying out the pledges they've made. Eighty percent of the country commitments made in the Washington meeting have already been fulfilled. So, we think that's a very good batting average.

SHUSTER: Among the nations that sent their nuclear materials to the U.S. are Chile, Mexico and Sweden. Ukraine sent its material to Russia. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine transferred all the nuclear weapons deployed on its territory to Russia. But it still had a considerable amount of highly enriched uranium. Two years ago, the president of Ukraine pledged to remove all of it by the time this global summit convened. That operation was completed yesterday. An American team of experts from the National Nuclear Security Administration, led by Andrew Bieniawski was on the grounds of the Kiev Institute for Nuclear Research, readying the last batch of highly enriched uranium for transport to storage facilities in Russia.

ANDREW BIENIAWSKI: There are four containers that are holding weapons-grade highly enriched uranium. We have just completed loading the first of those first containers onto special trucks.

SHUSTER: The trucks were to carry the material to trains for the journey to Russia. It proved to be a very complex operation.

BIENIAWSKI: Because this is radioactive spent fuel, it is much harder to handle. It requires greater level of protection. The whole process in terms of permits and regulations and export and import permits are just at a much higher level of complexity.

SHUSTER: The operation required close cooperation among the U.S., Ukraine and Russia. Ukraine's point man on the ground was Vasily Slysenko, the deputy director of the Kiev Institute.

VASILY SLYSENKO: (Through Translator) I believe that the experience and the gains in this exercise will be very much beneficial for both Ukraine and Russia. It's very good setting that example for all the world.

SHUSTER: Despite success like this though, there is still much dangerous material floating around the globe. How much?

KENNETH LUONGO: It's a lot, and in some parts of the world, particularly in South Asia, it's continuing to grow.

SHUSTER: Kenneth Luongo is president of the Partnership for Global Security. He says there are still nations in the world, like Pakistan and India, where little is known about how they secure these materials.

LUONGO: The problem with terrorism is that they exploit gaps in the security system. So small amounts of material, material in countries that don't have a culture of security or safety, those are the kinds of places we worry about.

SHUSTER: And that will be the heart of the discussion here over the next three days. Mike Shuster, NPR News, Seoul.


STAMBERG: You're listening to NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mike Shuster is an award-winning diplomatic correspondent and roving foreign correspondent for NPR News. He is based at NPR West, in Culver City, CA. When not traveling outside the U.S., Shuster covers issues of nuclear non-proliferation and weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, and the Pacific Rim.
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