Fri, Jan 13, 2012 - Page 5 News List

Australia ranked first, N Korea last on nuclear safety

VOLATILE MATTERS:Although Australia does not have nuclear weapons, it has a security alliance with the US and the world’s largest reserves of uranium

AFP, Washington

Australia has the tightest security controls among nations with nuclear material, while North Korea poses the world’s greatest risks, a new index compiled by experts said on Wednesday.

The Nuclear Threat Initiative, in a project led by former US senator Sam Nunn and the Economist Intelligence Unit, aims to draw attention to steps that nations can take to ensure the safety of the world’s most destructive weapons.

Among 32 nations that possess at least 1kg of weapons-usable nuclear materials, Australia was ranked as the most secure. It was followed by European nations led by Hungary, the Czech Republic and Switzerland.

At the bottom of the list, North Korea was ranked as the least secure with its nuclear material, edging out Pakistan. The index, which gave rankings on a scale of 100, also listed Iran, Vietnam and India below the 50-point threshold.

“This is not about congratulating some countries and chastising others. We are highlighting the universal responsibility of states to secure the world’s most dangerous materials,” said Nunn, who has long been active on nuclear safety.

Nunn, a Democrat who represented Georgia in the Senate from 1972 until early 1997, voiced concern that the world had a “perfect storm” — an ample supply of weapons-usable nuclear materials and terrorists who want them.

“We know that to get the materials they need, terrorists will go where the material is most vulnerable. Global nuclear security is only as strong as the weakest link in the chain,” he said.

The index, released ahead of the March summit on nuclear security in South Korea, called for the world to set benchmarks and to hold nations accountable for nuclear safety.

It also urged nations to stop increasing stocks of weapons-usable material and to make public their security regulations.

North Korea has tested two nuclear bombs and in 2009 renounced a US-backed agreement on denuclearization. The world has watched warily since last month as Kim Jong-un has taken over as leader from his late father former North Korean president Kim Jong-il.

Pakistan has vigorously defended its right to nuclear weapons. The father of Pakistan’s atomic bomb, Abdul Qadeer Khan, admitted in 2004 that he ran a nuclear black market selling secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea, but later retracted his remarks.

Australia does not have nuclear weapons and supports their abolition, but it has a security alliance with the US and holds the world’s largest reserves of uranium.

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