Romney Hits Obama on Russia, But Misses a Chance to Go Nuclear

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Mitt Romney continues his derision of Russia today with an op-ed today bashing Dmitry Medvedev–while also, naturally, accusing Barack Obama of going soft on our rivals. (“[A] sad replay of Jimmy Carter’s bungling at a moment when the United States needs the backbone and courage of a Ronald Reagan,” Romney writes.) Romney lists several reasons to mistrust the Russians, from missile defense to Iran. But he missed the chance to zing Obama’s progress with the Russians on the subject of the conference that brought Obama all the way to South Korea this week. Here’s the Wall Street Journal‘s reporting from the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit:

Victories were narrow and technical, with the most significant agreement one to develop national plans by the end of next year to limit the use of highly enriched uranium, or HEU, a widely used fuel in nuclear-power plants that is also a key ingredient for atomic weapons.

But Russia, which has the second-largest HEU stockpile after the U.S., disappointed U.S. officials and other participants by not making any new offers to convert HEU-based nuclear-power reactors. At the first such summit two years ago, Russia agreed to feasibility studies for the conversion of six reactors but has completed only two since. The country is home to about 50% of the HEU-based nuclear reactors now operating in the world.

Though it’s not quite as dramatic as the premise of Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol, the potential theft of highly enriched uranium is still a big deal. In general, nuclear terrorism is a classic black swan scenario that people are inclined to treat as far-fetched. For instance, the Russians reportedly consider the odds of a terrorist HEU theft to be “not very high” and thus don’t want the hassle and expense of converting their reactors. Some very reputable people disagree, however, and it’s hard to see why the Russians can’t adopt more of a better-safe-than-sorry attitude. Nobody wants to have to keep NEST on speed-dial, after all. And if Romney wants to a) bash the Russians b) bash Obama and c) talk tough about counter-terrorism, he should learn up on this issue.