Why It Matters

Close watch on nuclear security

Central Business District at Jubilee Bridge, on March 24, 2016. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Singapore's interest in nuclear security may not be immediately obvious - it does not have nuclear weapons nor does it use the energy - but Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's presence at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington this week is a sign of how seriously the Government views the issue.

PM Lee has made it a point to participate in all four of the nuclear summits, held once every two years.

As he explained after the meeting in The Hague in 2014, nuclear proliferation can have a profound impact on Singapore. First, any nuclear incident on a small, densely populated island like Singapore could potentially be an existential threat.

And second, given the country's status as an international trade hub, its economy can be crippled by a nuclear accident elsewhere.

Beyond Singapore's most direct interests, the discussions this week among the more than 50 world leaders will have implications for the region at large.

Asia is set to become a major player in global nuclear security in the coming years.

A recent article by the Asia Society noted that the region will likely see the highest levels of growth in the use of civilian nuclear energy globally in the coming years, and is also expected to experience the sharpest rise in nuclear weapon capacity.

Finally, the region's geopolitical landscape makes it susceptible to nuclear terrorism.

"Certain parts of the Asian region - South Asia in particular - face the dangerous combination of a significant terrorist threat combined with vulnerable nuclear facilities, making them particularly vulnerable to would-be nuclear terrorists," Harvard nuclear expert Gary Samore told the think-tank.

So, while it is unclear how many, if any, concrete agreements will emerge from the summit, the large contingent of Asian leaders participating - heads of state from China, India, Japan and South Korea are attending - shows the region is paying attention.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 28, 2016, with the headline Close watch on nuclear security. Subscribe