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The Globe and Mail

Trudeau to urge countries to allow inspection of nuclear facilities

Scott Berry, a manager for Ontario Power Generation, stands beside in-ground structures for storing intermediate level waste at the Bruce Power nuclear plant in Ontario in 2013.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will use a Nuclear Security Summit to call on countries to submit to voluntary independent inspections of nuclear facilities and spend more on securing and disposing of highly radioactive material.

U.S. President Barack Obama has invited 56 world leaders and organizations to Washington for a two-day summit devoted to securing nuclear material. This week's summit comes after terror attacks in Belgium, nuclear provocations from North Korea and U.S. concerns about Islamic State militants obtaining radioactive material.

This is the fourth such summit since 2009, spearheaded by Mr. Obama's desire to combat nuclear smuggling and reduce the use of highly enriched uranium. The United States said it is aware of 2,000 tonnes of either enriched uranium or separated plutonium around the world that could be used in nuclear weapons.

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John Barrett, president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Nuclear Association, said Mr. Trudeau is expected to urge the leaders to follow Canada's example and allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to inspect the security of civilian and government nuclear facilities.

"We voluntarily invited the Atomic Energy Agency to send a specialized team to examine the security arrangement and to give us advice," said Mr. Barrett, a former Canadian ambassador to the IAEA. "So what Canada and others countries will be saying is, 'Look, we did a voluntary inspection and you should do the same and report it.'"

Independent inspections would help assure the public that nuclear facilities are safe, said Mr. Barrett, who noted concerns are increasing that the Islamic State may be setting its sights on nuclear weapons. Investigators probing the 2015 Paris attacks found video footage of a top Belgian nuclear official in the apartment of one of the suspects.

The IAEA looked at the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station, Ontario Power's nuclear waste management facilities, McMaster University's reactor and Ottawa-based isotope processor Nordion. It found that all four facilities were strongly secured.

The Prime Minister is also expected to offer cash to the IAEA to help countries, mainly in Latin America and Southeast Asia, to locate, secure and dispose of highly radioactive material. He is also expected to provide new funds to a G7 Global Partnership program that helps to dispose of biological, chemical and radioactive material.

On the margins of the summit, Mr. Trudeau will meet the leaders of Britain, Italy, Argentina and India. When Mr. Trudeau's father was prime minister in 1976, Pierre Trudeau severed nuclear co-operation after India exploded a nuclear bomb made from uranium from a Canadian nuclear reactor.

In 2013, Canada signed a new nuclear co-operation deal to supply 3,200 tonnes of uranium concentrate from Saskatchewan.

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Fears that terrorists will get their hands on radioactive materials or abduct a nuclear scientist hang over the summit in the wake of the Brussels bombings and emerging evidence that Islamic State operatives had tailed a Belgian nuclear specialist and staked out a reactor.

"We know that terrorist organizations have the desire to get access to [radiological] materials and their desire to have a nuclear device," Ben Rhodes, the President's deputy national security adviser, said on the eve of the gathering. "We have seen ample proof that terrorist organizations like ISIL [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] have no regard for innocent human life or international norms and that only redoubles the need for us to have effective international security approaches."

But the spectre of jihadis with nukes isn't the immediate threat, said James Lewis, director and Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Daesh, or ISIS, focuses more on chemical weapons," he said at a panel briefing ahead of the summit.

As is typical at huge summits with dozens of leaders, who is favoured with bilateral meetings, who isn't and who's a no-show speak to evolving international tensions. Vladimir Putin is boycotting the summit – sending only observers to the U.S.-led event – in a snub by the Russian President whose unilateral interventions in Ukraine and Syria have soured relations with Washington. Mr. Obama's team dismissed Mr. Putin's stay-away. "All they are doing is isolating themselves," Mr. Rhodes said. By contrast, Mr. Obama will have a one-on-one with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Washington wants Beijing to lean harder on the rogue regime in North Korea that released a propaganda film this week showing Washington obliterated by a pre-emptive nuclear strike.

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