G8 members throw $20bn at 'dirty bomb'

Russia’s Group of Eight (G8) partners pledged to bankroll a landmark $20-billion program to safeguard former Soviet chemical and nuclear weapons from preying terrorists, on Thursday.

“The attacks of September 11 demonstrated that terrorists are prepared to use any means to cause terror and inflict appalling casualties on innocent people,” G8 leaders said a statement issued on the final day of their summit in Canada’s Rocky Mountains.

“We commit ourselves to prevent terrorists, or those that harbor them, from acquiring or developing nuclear, chemical, radiological and biological weapons, missiles and related materials, equipment and technology.

“We call on all countries to join us in adopting the set of non-proliferation principles we have announced today.”

The initiative will back projects, initially in Russia, to destroy “chemical weapons, the dismantlement of decommissioned nuclear submarines the disposition of fissile materials and the employment of former weapons scientists”.

“We will commit to raise up to $20-billion to support such projects over the next ten years,” the statement said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin immediately hailed the agreement but hit out at what he said were exaggerated accounts of the vulnerability of deadly radiological stocks in Russia.

“This is an issue that Russia and other countries have been discussing for a long time, the security of weapons grade nuclear materials,” Putin told reporters after the summit ended.

“It is a real problem for Russia and one inherited from the Soviet Union, but I have seen a lot of press and reports on international television channels talking about the threat of these nuclear weapons.

“This is not true, there is no such threat, Russia’s weapons of mass destruction are under very strict control.”

The adoption of the plan fulfills a major policy goal of President George Bush’s administration, worried that terror groups could sow carnage by detonating nuclear, or radiological “dirty bombs”.

“Given the terrorism threat that is oft cited by those who worry about the legacy of these weapons of mass destruction, we think this is a very important initiative, and we’re delighted to get it done,” Bush’s national security adviser Condoleezza Rice told reporters.

Washington has committed to stumping up $10-billion while the other Group of Seven nations, Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Germany and Japan, were asked to come up with another $10-billion under the plan, which has become known as “10 plus 10 over 10”.

Should those nations fail to find the cash, a call for donations will be made to other states, German delegation sources said.

Some European states had earlier expressed reservations about Russia’s apparent refusal to offer Western experts access to military sites where the plutonium is stored, an issue which led to hours of tricky negotations.

Dismantling Russia’s stocks of military plutonium, which are viewed as particularly susceptible to theft in the corruption-tainted post-Soviet era, has become a main focus of international efforts to halt proliferation.

The doomsday scenario of terrorists brandishing nuclear or radiological weapons took on added urgency after the United States said it had thwarted a bid by the al-Qaida network to explode a “dirty bomb” in its territory.

Experts warn that such a device, while it may not kill a huge number of people, could contaminate a wide area with radiation, and sow panic among the population. - Sapa-AFP

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