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Loophole in nuclear summit: spread of nuclear power?

President Obama's nuclear summit aims to keep terrorists from procuring nuclear weapons. But the US is encouraging countries to develop civilian nuclear power. But what are the proliferation risks?

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President Barack Obama holds bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India at the Blair House April 11 in advance of the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

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The goal of President Obama’s unprecedented gathering of world leaders in Washington Tuesday on the issue of nuclear security is to put under lock and key the world’s nuclear materials that could be used by terrorist organizations to make a nuclear bomb.

Yet as reassuring as that objective may sound, it hides a global reality that is going to make the goal all the more difficult: Worldwide production of the primary nuclear materials of concern – highly enriched uranium and separated plutonium – is going to increase in coming years as civilian nuclear programs grow to produce more energy.

And very often that growth will come at the encouragement of countries like the United States, France, and Russia, which want to cement their own nuclear energy industry’s involvement in a growing market.

IN PICTURES: Nuclear power around the world

So while it may be going too far to say that the Obama administration is working at cross purposes as it tries to secure nuclear materials and at the same time encourage their growth, some nuclear experts say there are at least “contradictions” in US and other countries’ actions.

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