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Obama summit's goal: keep nuclear weapons away from terrorists

The security summit that begins in Washington Monday aims to ensure that nuclear weapons and weapons-grade materials are put under lock and key to prevent terrorists from getting them.

By Staff writer / April 12, 2010

Technicians at the Lo Aguirre reactor in Santiago, Chile. The reactor holds highly enriched uranium being sent to the US. President Obama wants a global effort to secure this kind of weapons-grade nuclear material in four years.

Jorge Saenz/AP

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Washington

The nuclear security summit President Obama holds in Washington this week will be the largest meeting of world leaders ever hosted in the US capital – suggesting just how important the president considers the global task of securing nuclear materials and keeping them out of the hands of extremists and terrorist organizations.

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By Tuesday evening, when the two-day gathering of 50 heads of state and government and international institutions closes, Mr. Obama wants to have reached agreement on a plan to secure the world’s stockpiles of plutonium and highly-enriched uranium (HEU) – essential ingredients in the building of nuclear weapons – by 2013.

That date would mark one year from Obama’s Prague speech in April 2009 when he set a goal for reducing the world’s large quantities of nuclear weapons materials to stockpiles under lock and key.

IN PICTURES: Nuclear Weapons

“The summit is intended to rally collective action behind the goal of securing vulnerable nuclear materials within four years,” says Ben Rhodes, the White House deputy national security adviser for strategic communications.

He notes that the summit is one link in a chain of events related to nuclear security and proliferation the president has either initiated or is renewing as an American priority: from his Prague speech last year on his vision of a world without nuclear weapons to the new START agreement with Russia, this summit, and next month’s Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference at the United Nations.

Denying weapons-grade material to extremists

Administration officials express confidence that by focusing on the significant but limited challenge of denying nonstate actors like extremist groups and organized crime access to plutonium and highly enriched uranium, the world can end what is now a fearsome threat.

“If we can lock them [nuclear materials] down, we have essentially solved the risk of nuclear terrorism,” says Gary Samore, Obama’s senior adviser on nuclear issues and the National Security Council’s senior director for nonproliferation.

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