Experts warn relaxed controls on weapons-grade material will allow Al Qaeda to 'go nuclear'

Complacency among world governments could lead to terrorists getting hold of the material needed to make a nuclear weapon, scientists and weapons experts have warned.

Former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans said too few governments were taking seriously the threat of Al Qaeda to 'go nuclear'. 

He said unless greater efforts were made to keep tighter control on weapons-grade materials, they could end up in the hands of a terror group.

Nuclear Security Summit

Nuclear talks: President Obama with Britain's Foreign Secretary David Miliband at the start of the Nuclear Security Summit at the Washington Convention Centre

His comments came as President Barack Obama opened a historic nuclear summit aimed at reaching an accord on how to keep nuclear weapons out of the reach of terrorists.

World leaders from 47 countries gathered in Washington for the two-day conference. It was the largest summit of nations in the US since 1945, when the United Nations was formed.

The threat posed by Al Qaeda was raised at an unofficial parallel summit in the city, involving more than 200 specialists from dozens of countries.

Mr Evans, who was Australian foreign minister from 1988-96, said: 'There are a number of people inclined to think that maybe concerns about nuclear terrorism are alarmist, that terrorists could never make a functioning nuclear weapon.'

He was supported by former US diplomat and arms control expert Robert Gallucci, who said the prospect of Al Qaeda developing a crude nuclear device was 'possible, plausible and, over time, probable'.

Mr Obama wants to reach an agreement on securing all vulnerable nuclear materials within four years.

He was given an early boost yesterday when he reached an agreement with China to work on sanctions against Iran, which the West believes is secretly trying to build a nuclear bomb.

Chinese president Hu Jintao said China and the U.S. 'share the same overall goal on the Iranian nuclear issue'.

Mr Obama saw another success when Ukraine vowed to dispose of its potentially weapons-grade uranium.

As the site of the 1986 Chernobyl power plant disaster, the worst civilian nuclear explosion, Ukraine knows first-hand the massive effects of radiation on an unprepared population.

The pledge to get rid of all highly enriched uranium stores by 2012 came after Mr Obama met Ukraine's new President Viktor Yanukovich on the  sidelines of the summit.

'President Yanukovich announced Ukraine's decision to get rid of all of its stocks of highly-enriched uranium by the time of the next Nuclear Security Summit,' the two leaders said in a joint statement.

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