International agreement on nuclear safeguards standards needed, US nuke top dog says

Publish date: September 18, 2008

The international community must agree on a common set of security standards to ensure that plans to expand the use of nuclear power do not increase opportunities for terrorists or rogue nations to acquire sensitive materials, a top US nuclear official said yesterday, the Global Security Newswire reported.

“An effective deterrent against the spread and use of WMD cannot be unilateral in nature,” said Thomas D’Agostino, head of the National Nuclear Security Administration. “Let me be clear when I say I believe the United States has a special responsibility in advancing nonproliferation and global security. But we should not and cannot do it alone.”

D’Agostino said his agency is promoting development of standards that would serve as a comprehensive guideline on issues such as export controls, physical protection of nuclear material and safeguards, GSN reported.

“Together we must build a system that excludes the possibility that proliferators could [exploit] just one weak link,” D’Agostino said during a discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Safeguards are a particular area of concern, due to the increasing burden on the United Nations’ nuclear monitor, the International Atomic Energy Agency.  

Officials with the UN nuclear watchdog now conduct inspections in 145 nations to ensure that their nuclear sites, material and work are not being put to weapons purposes, GSN reported.

The number of facilities checked under safeguards agreements has more than tripled in 25 years, while the quantity of weapon-grade uranium and plutonium under safeguards has grown six times, according to an NNSA document shown to GSN.

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