UK warns of nuclear risk ahead of Seoul summit

LONDON Sat Mar 24, 2012 1:52am IST

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LONDON (Reuters) - Britain warned on Friday there was a "significant likelihood" that terrorists will one day acquire chemical, biological or nuclear weapons unless countries step up their efforts to keep sensitive materials and information secure.

The British government released its first comprehensive National Counter-Proliferation Strategy, detailing the risks from the spread such weapons and what Britain and other countries can do to stop it.

It came out days before leaders from more than 50 countries, including U.S. President Barack Obama, gather in Seoul, South Korea, for a March 26-27 nuclear security summit focusing on measures to protect nuclear materials and facilities and to prevent illicit trafficking.

The British strategy identified a terrorist chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) attack on Britain or its interests, including British armed forces, as one of the most serious potential risks to its national security.

"Al Qaeda has a long-held desire to obtain and use CBRN devices. Without continued global efforts to reduce vulnerabilities in the security of material and information, there is a significant likelihood that terrorists will at some point acquire CBRN capability," the document, approved by Britain's National Security Council, said.

"Nuclear terrorism is now a real and global threat," British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who will lead Britain's delegation in Seoul, said in a statement.

A second risk highlighted in the strategy was that the spread of chemical, biological, nuclear or conventional military technologies could lead to an international military crisis.

A deepening confrontation between Iran and the West over Tehran's nuclear programme has led to speculation that the United States or Israel could launch a military strike to stop Iran developing a nuclear bomb.

In the new strategy, Britain, which itself has nuclear weapons, said there were "serious concerns" about a military dimension to Iran's nuclear programme and it also voiced concerns about North Korea's proliferation activities.

Britain is working to tighten the security of sensitive nuclear information, making nuclear scientists aware of the risks and of the need to keep information secure, officials said.

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