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Nuclear terrorism threat warning ahead of summit

Published: 11:17AM Monday March 26, 2012 Source: ONE News

Prime Minister John Key will today join world leaders in South Korea for a summit on nuclear security, as fears grow that terrorist groups are said to be getting close to gaining nuclear bombs.

Key will be among more than 50 other world leaders in Seoul for a follow-up to the inaugural nuclear security summit organised by US President Barack Obama in Washington in 2010 to help combat the threat of nuclear terrorism.

The aim of the two-day summit, which Obama will attend, is to secure nuclear material and prevent it from being smuggled to states or groups intent on destruction.

Waikato University Professor of Law, Al Gillespie, told TV ONE's Breakfast today that a number of terrorist groups are getting close to having a nuclear bomb.

Gillespie said the international community monitors the illegal trade in nuclear material, and its criminal activities.

"There's been over 2,000 incidents since 1993 since we've been recording. Of those, 400 have been confirmed to involve nuclear materials. And of that 400, 16 have involved highly enriched uranium," he said.

While some of the terrorist groups are getting close to having the bomb, the amount of uranium involved so far is quite small, Gillespie said.

"You'd need about 20 kilograms to make a small weapon. The biggest seizure so far has been three kilograms."

However, Gillespie said the illegal nuclear activity is believed to be much bigger than the figures suggest because they only give a snapshot of what is happening.

He said there are some terrorist groups which would not use a nuclear weapon because they are "quite rational" and want to hold political power.

"The irrational political groups, or the irrational religious terrorists, are not the same. So if religious terrorists get hold of the bomb then you do lose sleep."

Doomsday Clock

While North Korea and Iran are not on the guest list or the official agenda for the summit in Seoul, they are expected to be the main focus of Obama's array of bilateral meetings on the sidelines.

Gillespie said North Korea will be "a much easier discussion to contain" than the debate about Israel and Iran.

"Israel is a country which already has at least 200 nuclear weapons and it is operating largely outside the international frameworks - not completely but largely," he explained.

"Iran has been in violation since 2003 in terms of its non-compliance with nuclear safety and nuclear inspections. Israel struck in 1981 against Iraq for exactly the same reasons when Iraq was making nuclear weapons."

The Seoul summit comes as the so-called doomsday clock - a symbolic time-piece that shows how close the world is to global nuclear catastrophe - is said to be at five minutes to 12.

A third nuclear security summit will be held in 2014.

Yesterday, free trade negotiations, which have been on hold for a couple of years, were high on the agenda as Key met with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.

Key's visit also coincides with the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between New Zealand and South Korea.