Photo via La Nacion.

President Mauricio Macri defended the “peaceful use of nuclear energy” yesterday during his first official visit to US capital Washington, DC to attend the global Nuclear Security Summit, where fears over the vulnerability of nuclear power to terrorist groups dominated proceedings.

“It is necessary to take all measures to protect nuclear materials from terrorist and criminal organizations,” Macri said during his speech at the conference. “There can be no place for terrorism, and less so nuclear terrorism,” he added in line with all the other heads of state also unfriendly to such terrifying possibilities.  

Having inherited a number of nuclear projects built or launched during the Kirchner era, which now provide an increasing slice of the energy matrix pie in Argentina still dominated by fossil fuels, Macri was also eager to defend what he called the “peaceful” use of nuclear energy for domestic economic benefit.

“Much can be achieved in the realm of nuclear security, without affecting its peaceful use,” he said, walking the tightrope like many leaders during the summit of addressing myriad concerns about the domestic and international security threats posed by nuclear energy and nuclear weapons.

It remains to be seen what, if any, measures directly concerning Argentina’s own nuclear program will be taken.

Macri for his part has promised to review all deals signed with Beijing by former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s government, and that includes two of the new nuclear power plants currently under construction in Greater Buenos Aires and Córdoba following a deal closed by ex-Economy Minister Axel Kicillof just days before the 2015 presidential run-off election last November.

Macri struts his stuff at the IV Nuclear Security Summit. Image: Presidencia de la Nacion, via Infobae

Meanwhile, he continued to address the very serious and really quite frightening concerns that terrorist or criminal organizations could get a hold of nuclear materials and make their own bomb by employing the terrible knowledge unleashed 70 years ago by the Manhattan Project.

Macri told the summit that Argentina offered a model whereby the domestic use of uranium isotopes to produce energy could be made safer by employing them at lower enrichment levels than that required to make a nuclear weapon, implying that they would be useless to any potential evil doers who might wish to do so.

“Argentina is consolidating a restructuring process in which all our working reactors operate with low-enriched uranium,” he said, adding that “although it has been argued that this reduction could hinder nuclear activities, the case of Argentina shows that it’s possible. Argentina today is a country free of highly enriched uranium” (and much safer because of that too, he implied, with a great deal of justification). Indeed, new best bud, mate fan and US President Barack Obama praised Argentina’s work (prior to Macri’s election, by the way) of getting rid of its highly enriched uranium stockpiles.

With the Summit dominated by fears of the entire world that the nuclear armed states (the US, Russia, China, France, UK, Israel, India, Pakistan, North Korea)  were vulnerable to terrorist or criminal theft of highly enriched uranium and therefore nuclear terrorism, Macri rightly championed Argentina — and by implication Latin America’s — rejection of highly enriched uranium.

The specter of nuclear terrorism through an organization as bloodthirsty and zealous as ISIS appears to have been something of an afterthought when the global superpowers rushed to acquire stockpiles of nuclear weapons with the potential to destroy life on earth during the early years of the Cold War. Even though the stockpiles have been reduced in overall terms, they still represent comfortably enough destructive power to cause a mass extinction on earth if they are ever used.

While Macri unfortunately skirted round the very real domestic security risks posed by nuclear power (Fukushima, anyone?), he flew the flag for Argentina’s model of a lower-enriched nuclear energy program that should be safe(r) from non-state nuclear terrorism, the very scary ghost at the feast.