Islamic State ‘mad men’ would happily use nukes: Barack Obama

There are "terrifying possibilities" that terrorists could get access to nuclear material to make dirty bombs, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop warns.

Speaking on the sidelines of a global nuclear summit in Washington on Saturday, Ms Bishop said Australia was committed to the global effort to secure nuclear material amid fears of the potential for a nuclear terrorist attack.

The summit is dealing with hypotheticals of what could occur and how to prevent it.

"There is a high level of concern that nuclear material could fall into the hands of terrorists or terrorist groups or that they would get sufficient material to make what is called a dirty bomb," Ms Bishop told reporters.

"It was so heartening to see so many countries represented here, exchanging ideas, exchanging experiences and working collaboratively to ensure that the nuclear material for civilian purposes is held as tightly and securely as possible with a commitment to reducing the risk that terrorists could gain control."

Ms Bishop spoke after US President Barack Obama warned global leaders extremist "madmen" from the Islamic State group would not hesitate to launch a catastrophic nuclear attack.

Mr Obama painted an apocalyptic picture of the impact of a nuclear terror attack, a threat which has loomed large over the two-day summit, amid revelations that the Islamic State group carried out video surveillance on a top Belgian nuclear scientist.

"ISIL has already used chemical weapons, including mustard gas, in Syria and Iraq," Mr Obama said, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.

"There is no doubt that if these madmen ever got their hands on a nuclear bomb or nuclear material, they most certainly would use it to continue to kill as many innocent people as possible." The summit - attended by dozens of world leaders and delegates - is focused on securing global stockpiles of nuclear materials, stored by the military and by the medical and power industries.

Mr Obama said about 2,000 tons of nuclear materials are stored around the world at civilian and military facilities, but some of them are not properly secured.

"Just the smallest amount of plutonium - about the size of an apple - would kill and injure hundreds of thousands of innocent people," he said.

"It would be a humanitarian, political, economic and environmental catastrophe with global ramifications for decades," he added.

"It would change our world."

Ms Bishop said Australia had a strong record in securing nuclear material as a uranium producer and exporter.

At one point Australia was holding about 300kg of highly enriched uranium.

It now holds less than 3kg.

"That is for research purpose but we are constantly reviewing our need for that," she said. Dozens of world leaders at the summit have reaffirmed their commitment to fight proliferation of nuclear weapons and materials, according to a communique.

It says more needs to be done to prevent non-state actors from obtaining nuclear and other radioactive materials.

"The threat of nuclear and radiological terrorism remains one of the greatest challenges to international security, and the threat is constantly evolving," the communique said.

The nuclear security summit comes in the wake of attacks in Paris and Brussels that have killed dozens and exposed Europe's inability to thwart destabilising attacks or track Islamic State operatives returning from Iraq and Syria.

"As ISIL is squeezed in Syria and Iraq, we can anticipate it lashing out elsewhere," he said.

"We need to do even more to prevent the flow of foreign terrorist fighters."

Though the summit is focused on fissile stockpiles, other nuclear concerns inevitably have drawn broad attention, including North Korea and its continued testing of nuclear devices and ballistic missiles.

The reclusive nation fired another short-range missile off its east coast on Friday, the latest in a series of North Korean missile launches during what has been an extended period of military tension on the Korean peninsula.

The summit opened on Thursday with Mr Obama trying to forge consensus among East Asian leaders on how to respond to Pyongyang.

Halfway through the closing day of the summit, delegates described a series of incremental measures, such as enhanced co-operation between nations.

Mr Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that Japan had removed all its highly-enriched uranium and separated plutonium fuels ahead of schedule. The fissile material will be "downblended" in the United States for civilian use or eventual disposal.

Mr Obama also used the summit as a chance to hold "candid" talks with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping over Beijing's alleged military build-up in the South China Sea.

US officials have expressed concern that China's actions in the South China Sea are inconsistent with Mr Xi's pledge at the White House last year not to pursue militarisation of the hotly contested and strategically vital waterway.

China claims virtually all the South China Sea despite conflicting claims by Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines, and has built up artificial islands in the area in recent months, including some with airstrips.

This is the fourth in a series of nuclear security summits convened at Mr Obama's behest and with the president leaving office next year, it may well be the last.

But it risked being overshadowed by two men who were not even there: Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Experts say Mr Putin's refusal to attend has made it almost impossible to achieve substantive reductions in fissile material - the vast majority of which is held by the militaries of Russia and the United States.

"This nuclear security summit is supposed to address all of the stocks, but truth is that all they address really is a small proportion of civilian stocks," Patricia Lewis, international security research director at British think tank Chatham House, told AFP.

Obama foreign policy adviser Ben Rhodes earlier described the lack of Russian participation as "counter-productive." America's presidential election also took centre stage, with questions about Mr Trump's suggestion that Asian allies should develop nuclear weapons.

"It would be catastrophic for the United States to shift its position and indicate that we somehow support the proliferation of nuclear weapons," Mr Rhodes said.

Source: The Australian

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