Image Credit: Ramachandra Babu/©Gulf News

The world is inevitably moving to rely more on nuclear power, as the population continues to grow and get richer. As more people seek ever more energy to power their better lifestyles, it is clear that fossil fuels cannot meet the demand forever. It also becoming obvious that the new technologies of the renewable sources will not able to supply the projected future demand.

But there is a vast shadow hanging over our reliance on nuclear power since the nuclear material used to generate the essential power that we will certainly need, is the same material that makes nuclear weapons. Radioactive uranium is enriched to perform better in power stations, but if it is enriched yet further, it becomes what is needed to make a nuclear bomb.

This is why the summit on nuclear security in Seoul this week was so important. It is a significant effort to direct the world's attention back to what is important in the long term, as well as coping with the immediate nuclear crises. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak spelt out the fears of many when he said that if nuclear materials fall into the hands of terrorists, humanity will face a most daunting threat and challenge.

"This is because there is no effective way to deter terrorist groups from using nuclear materials once they have them. Terrorists know neither mercy nor compromise; they will not hesitate for a moment in taking away innocent lives to obtain their goals," he said.

He pointed out the alarming fact that in total in the world today, including the superpowers' arsenals, there is about 1,600 tonnes of highly enriched uranium and 500 tonnes of plutonium, which is enough to manufacture more than 100,000 nuclear weapons.

Therefore, the summit focused on practical steps which current nuclear nations should take, as well as conditions to which aspirationally nuclear nations should commit.

"In particular, significant advances must be made in eliminating and minimising the use of nuclear materials, including highly enriched uranium and plutonium; enhancing international cooperation which is crucial in detecting, tracking and responding to illicit trafficking of nuclear material; and securing the universality of international norms," Lee said.

The UAE played an important part at the summit. The UAE has a unique place in nuclear discussions as the only Arab state to be currently building a nuclear power station, having foregone its right to enrich uranium, preferring to get it from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and so avoid any hint of proliferation of sensitive material.

At the Seoul summit, General Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, announced two practical steps. The first was that the UAE would give $1 million (Dh3.67 million) to help fund the expansion of the IAEA's Safeguards Analytical Laboratory which allows the IAEA to determine the origin of nuclear materials and to detect undeclared and illegal nuclear installations.

Continuous control

Shaikh Mohammad also announced that the UAE would host an international conference in October 2013 which will look at what strategies and techniques are needed to maintain continuous control of radioactive sources throughout their life cycle.

The idea behind this is that even radioactive sources used in medical equipment or industry and agriculture, which are not capable of being used in an atomic weapon, can still be used to make a dirty bomb which contaminates areas around the detonation site. The proposed summit will look at how to maintain security over these materials, the use of which has grown in recent years.

But Shaikh Mohammad's main point to the leaders of over 50 nations assembled for the summit was much wider. He said that threats to nuclear security cannot be seen as specific to any single country, but must be understood as a common threat to all nations of the world.

He called for international cooperation to help put in place the global infrastructure and human capacity needed to ensure the highest standards of nuclear security in all countries, stressing the important role of the IAEA in promoting nuclear security.

US President Barack Obama outlined the main purpose of the summit when he reminded delegates that it was essential that terrorist groups do not get their hands on the world's nuclear and radioactive materials and facilities.

The summit took this on board and reviewed how to combat the threat of nuclear terrorism, the protection of nuclear materials and related facilities and the prevention of illicit trafficking of nuclear materials.

But the summit was not just about proliferation, but also about the reduction of existing stockpiles in those nations that built up their nuclear assets over decades. The US and Russia have committed to improve their new START treaty which was signed in 2012 which cut US and Russian nuclear arsenals to 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads — down about 30 per cent from the two states' previous limit.

In addition, Obama invited China to come in on this process, commenting that China and the US both have an interest reinforcing international norms surrounding non-proliferation, and preventing the creation of destabilising nuclear weapons.