THE HAGUE, Netherlands - Singapore will toughen its laws to prevent and punish criminals who steal, smuggle or misuse nuclear substances as a precursor to it signing an international pact covering nuclear materials security.
Announcing the move at the third Nuclear Security Summit that opened here on Monday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that it will then be ready to accede to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM).
The convention is the only international, legally binding undertaking in the physical protection of nuclear materials.
The new legislation entails amendments to the Radiation Protection Act and will focus on thwarting miscreants from getting hold of nuclear materials, including powers to extradite offenders. It is expected to be passed before the end of the year.
Mr Lee said that even though Singapore is neither a nuclear power nor a user of such energy, it considers nuclear security and safety as important issues.
First, as a small and densely populated island, any nuclear incident would be a major disaster, "perhaps an existential one".
Second, as an international transshipment hub, its economy, trade and security can be easily crippled by a nuclear accident elsewhere. Hence, there is a need to strengthen the international framework on nuclear safety and security, he said.
He noted also that despite the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant, the world cannot do away with nuclear energy entirely, especially as energy needs grow and fossil fuels pose environmental concerns.
Mr Lee cited three key ways to strengthen the international framework: improve nuclear security, tighten non-proliferation regimes and beef up safety controls.
On boosting security, more countries could come on board and agree to the CPPNM, as Singapore is doing. Mr Lee said that it is not just civilian nuclear materials, but also non-civilian facilities that need to be secured. As most of the world's weapons-usable nuclear material is held by the military, it should be accounted for and kept properly.
The PM, who was among 12 leaders who spoke at the first plenary session, including United States President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, also urged countries to cooperate on the non-proliferation front.
"As a transshipment hub, Singapore is firmly committed to counter-proliferation and preventing the illicit trafficking of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery," said Mr Lee.
It has a robust export controls system and fully abides by all its obligations. But it is not enough for only some jurisdictions or ports to do this, he said. "Every part of the entire supply chain must be secure. Otherwise, vessels with suspicious cargo will simply exploit the weakest link."
On beefing up nuclear safety, he noted that it is especially critical as countries in Asia embark on their first nuclear power plants. More must be done to help countries develop a robust regulatory and emergency preparedness framework, he said, and Singapore is working with the International Atomic Energy Agency to do this.
Yesterday's session opened with world leaders making renewed calls to secure vulnerable nuclear materials. The number of countries with enough enriched uranium or plutonium to make a bomb has dropped, from 39 before 2010 to 25 today. This was good progress, but to host PM, Mr Mark Rutte of Holland, "not nearly enough".
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.