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By Phil Mercer
Sydney
21 October 2008

A new non-proliferation group warns the world is on the brink of a massive increase in nuclear weapons. The global organization has spent the past two days in Sydney looking at ways to strengthen international agreements to halt the spread of nuclear arsenals. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament meeting in Sydney, 21 Oct 2008
International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament meeting in Sydney, 21 Oct 2008
Leaders of the new International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament say the world had been "sleepwalking" on the issue of nuclear weapons for a decade.

They warn that a nuclear attack would dwarf the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

The organization was first proposed by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd after his June visit to the Japanese city of Hiroshima, which was devastated by an American atomic bomb in 1945.

It aims to reinvigorate the global debate on the nuclear weapons before a 2010 conference that will review the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The co-chairman of the group, Gareth Evans, said Tuesday that tough new measures are needed to stop the spread of nuclear warheads.

"The big problem with both North Korea and Iran is the demonstration that while doing what you're totally allowed to do under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, namely develop energy for peaceful purposes, you can acquire the capacity to create enriched uranium, which in turn gives you the capacity to very quickly convert that into the material for making bombs," said Evans.

North Korea has tested a nuclear device, although it is negotiating with China, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the United States to give up its nuclear programs. Many governments, including the United States, think Iran is trying to violate its NPT commitments by developing a nuclear weapon.

Evans says that there are between 13,000 and 16,000 nuclear warheads deployed around the world.

The former Australian foreign minister says it is "a bit of a miracle" that a nuclear catastrophe had not occurred during the Cold War or afterward.

Evans heads the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament along with a former Japanese diplomat Yoriko Kawaguchi.

The new body includes representatives from five nuclear powers - the United States, China, Russia, Britain and France - as well as other countries, including South Africa, Indonesia and Germany.

Two senior figures from Pakistan and India also attended the Sydney conference. Both governments have developed nuclear weapons, and neither has signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty.  

The NPT allows nations to develop peaceful uses of nuclear energy - such as power generation, but bars the spread of nuclear weapons.

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