Nuclear proliferation and the risks of nuclear materials falling into the wrong hands – raised at Lords Question Time

Over the last few months, I have been doing some work on the danger of nuclear materials falling into the hands of terrorists and had the opportunity to raise the issue during Lords Question Time this afternoon.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer had tabled the following question:

“To ask Her Majesty’s Government what contribution they will make to the work required to achieve progress on the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons following the resolution passed at the review conference in May.”

Lord Howell of Guildford, the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, answered as follows:

“My Lords, as we promised on taking office, we pushed hard for agreement of a final document at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. We will give the highest priority to reversing the spread of nuclear weapons, keeping them out of the hands of terrorists and cutting their numbers worldwide, and we will work with partners to translate those commitments into action.”

I came in with the following supplementary:

“My Lords, the IAEA’s illicit trafficking database has recorded 336 incidents involving unauthorised possession of nuclear materials and associated criminal acts in the past 15 years. There have also been incidents of terror teams carrying out reconnaissance of nuclear weapon trains in Russia. Can the noble Lord tell us, first, whether Her Majesty’s Government are satisfied with the security arrangements around the nuclear facilities in this country and what steps they are taking to protect them? Secondly, what steps are they taking to ensure that security arrangements around both civil and military nuclear facilities elsewhere are being properly maintained?”

And this elicited the following response:

“I thank the noble Lord for his question. We are satisfied, but we are always on guard and always watchful for any need for improvement. The international security of nuclear materials was discussed, analysed and strengthened at the Washington conference in April that preceded the nuclear NPT review conference. A whole series of measures was put forward there and agreed. In so far as one can, one can say that these measures are a step forward in what is undoubtedly, as the noble Lord fully realises, a very dangerous situation.”

I will be returning to the issue later in the Session.

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