WASHINGTON - A new report shows that President Barack Obama is a long way from reaching his goal of locking down all the world's nuclear weapons material by next year.
The report by the U.S.-based Nuclear Threat Initiative grades the 32 countries believed to possess such material and suggests that many have far to go. Despite a push by the Obama administration to galvanize international efforts to keep terrorists from obtaining the ultimate weapon, the report concludes that there is not yet even a global consensus about what the priorities should be or how materials should be tracked and protected.
The assessment comes ahead of a second summit of world leaders on nuclear security set to convene in March in Seoul. Mr. Obama hosted the first summit two years ago in Washington, a year after he called on world leaders to accelerate steps to keep material and weapons from falling into the wrong hands.
The goal of completely securing the world's nuclear stocks was perhaps rhetorical it was a pledge Mr. Obama made in front of a castle in Prague in 2009, when his presidency was new. But Mr. Obama won significant pledges from some countries to winnow or eliminate nuclear weapons materials.
The NTI's nuclear materials security index is an attempt to create benchmarks for marking progress as countries try to notch up security of highly enriched uranium and plutonium stored in hundreds of places in dozens of countries.
One of NTI's chairmen, former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, said the report confirms that some of the material is poorly secured, highlighting the risk that terrorists could acquire the means to build a bomb.
"It's not a piece of cake for terrorists, but it's far from impossible," he said.
The index evaluates countries based on numerous metrics from the quantity of material a country possesses, how it is stored and accounted for and even political factors like corruption and stability.
Of the 32 countries, the index ranks Australia as most secure and North Korea as least. Among the countries with nuclear weapons, not just material, Britain is ranked highest.
The United States is ranked 13th overall. Its relatively low ranking reflects its large quantity of materials and sites, among other factors.