Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

Has Obama reduced the nuclear threat?

We take a look at how much progress President Barack Obama has made on eight campaign promises he made in 2008.
We take a look at how much progress President Barack Obama has made on eight campaign promises he made in 2008.

In a speech to a Washington meeting today, President Barack Obama will mark the 20th anniversary of an important milestone in the reduction of nuclear threats.

Obama will deliver remarks to the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction symposium, marking the 20th anniversary of the effort to secure nuclear materials initiated by then-Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., and outgoing Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind.

In the past few weeks, we’ve rated eight of Obama’s promises related to nuclear materials on the Obameter. Four earned a Promise Kept, three earned a Compromise and one was a Promise Broken.

Here’s a rundown:

• A promise to "meet growing demands for nuclear power without contributing to the proliferation of nuclear materials."

Significant progress has been made on fuel banks -- institutions meant to encourage countries that don't have reliable supplies of enriched uranium and plutonium to get nuclear materials from other nations rather than building their own processing centers. One fuel bank in Siberia is up and running, while planning for a second one in Kazakhstan is under way. We rated it a Promise Kept.

• A promise to remove or secure highly enriched uranium and chemically downgrade it so it can’t be used to create weapons.

We concluded that the array of programs backed by the administration suggest that officials are taking the challenge seriously. It was enough to earn a Promise Kept.

• A promise to hold a summit on preventing nuclear terrorism in 2009 — his first year in office — "and regularly thereafter."

The first conference was held in Washington on April 12 and 13, 2010. The second was held in Seoul, South Korea, on March 26 and 27, 2012. A 2014 summit is scheduled to be held in the Netherlands. We rated this a Promise Kept.

• A promise to strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

In May 2010, 189 signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty met for a once-every-five-years review conference was generally thought to have produced positive results. Meanwhile, the Obama administration has also helped enact "strong international sanctions" against Iran. We rated this a Promise Kept.

• A promise to "institutionalize" the Proliferation Security Initiative, an international effort designed to stop shipments of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems.

We found that Obama continues to tout the program’s importance and sign agreements with other nations, but independent observers say it's hard to say exactly how much the initiative has accomplished. We rated this promise a Compromise.

• A promise to "lead a global effort to secure all nuclear weapons materials at vulnerable sites within four years."

Significant progress has been made on this progress through the federal government’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative as well as the 1991 law sponsored by Nunn and Lugar. For instance, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine are now nuclear-free. However, on Oct. 10, 2012, Russia announced that it would not renew its cooperation in Nunn-Lugar for a third time when it expires in 2013. The shadow of Russia’s looming departure casts enough of a shadow on Obama’s promise that we rated this a Compromise.

• A promise to "lead federal efforts to look for a safe, long-term disposal solution" for nuclear waste.
   
The cancellation of Yucca Mountain -- a controversial and long-delayed project to store nuclear waste --increased the pressure on the federal government to find an alternative solution. Obama created the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future, which released its final report with recommendations in January 2012. However, not much has happened in the 10 months since the report was released, so we rated it a Compromise.
   
• A promise to advance a proposed treaty on fissile materials -- mainly highly enriched uranium and plutonium isotopes -- would make it harder for non-nuclear nations to join the nuclear club.

The treaty process that the 65 participating nations agreed to is based on consensus. Pakistan, by most accounts, is the biggest stumbling block. After four years in office, the Obama administration has failed to break the deadlock and get the parties to begin hammering out a treaty. So we moved this to Promise Broken.