Homeland Security, Radiological Terror, and Countering Public Fears

By Matthew Bunn

Steve Brill’s terrific article “Are We Any Safer?” – the cover of the September Atlantic – describes both the progress and the follies of homeland security in the 15 years since the tragedy of 9/11.  Brill provides a readable (and highly opinionated) overview of vulnerabilities that have been largely fixed, areas where hundreds of billions have been wasted, and remaining gaps.

Cancel the plutonium fuel factory

Matthew Bunn and Gary Samore just published an op-ed arguing that the program to build a factory that converts excess plutonium from dismantled nuclear weapons into plutonium-uranium mixed oxide fuel for nuclear reactors has become too expensive. Although the two helped to launch the program in the mid-90s, they argue "It is time to stop throwing good money after bad and pursue cheaper alternatives that will serve our national security better" and "whatever we do with this plutonium in the long term, we should move to put it under international monitoring, and commit never again to use it in weapons..." You can read their complete argument here.

ICYMI: Anti-Doping Seals Can be Beaten

By Matthew Bunn

The sports world was recently in a tizzy over revelations by the former head of Russia’s anti-doping laboratory – who has now fled the country – that he helped run a massive doping operation and cover-up that contributed to Russia’s impressive haul of medals at the 2014 Olympics.  (Russian officials and athletes denied the charges.)

Elbe Group Members Urge More Cooperation to Combat Nuclear Terrorism

By Brigadier General Kevin Ryan (ret.)

At a meeting 23 and 24 March in Belgrade, US and Russian members of the Elbe Group – retired general officers from the military and intelligence services – declared that the risk of terrorism, both conventional and nuclear, is growing.  They urged that special attention must be given to preventing Daesh, al Qaeda, and other terrorist organizations which have declared openly their desire to gain weapons of mass destruction, from obtaining them.

Fresh Thinking on Highly Enriched Uranium Research Reactor Conversions

By William Tobey

Last week, a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine panel affirmed the goal of eliminating highly enriched uranium (HEU) from civilian use, while recommending step-wise conversion of high performance research reactors using weapon-grade uranium fuel and that the White House coordinate a 50-year national roadmap for neutron-based research. (Full disclosure:  I sat on that committee, and oversaw the NNSA reactor conversion program from 2006-9; this post, however, represents my views, not necessarily those of the committee or NNSA.)

Index Results Highlight Need for Path Forward After Summits End

By Samantha Pitts-Kiefer

With the fourth and final nuclear security summit approaching in March, the 2016 edition of the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) Nuclear Security Index raises red flags about the international community’s implementation of the important measures needed to protect against catastrophic nuclear terrorism and to build an effective global nuclear security system. More importantly, it raises the question, how will leaders sustain momentum and high-level political attention on the need to secure dangerous nuclear materials once the summits come to an end?

All HEU Removed from Georgia, Again

By Matthew Bunn

In 1998, in Operation Auburn Endeavor, the U.S. government helped fly 4.3 kilograms of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and low-enriched uranium (LEU) from vulnerable facilities in war-torn Georgia to the Dounreay reprocessing plant in the United Kingdom. At the time, those in the U.S. government involved in the project, myself included, thought that was all the HEU there was in Georgia. So it was a surprise when the IAEA announced the removal of another 1.83 kilograms of HEU from Georgia – apparently now really the last of the HEU there.

ICYMI: Hearing on Preventing Nuclear Smuggling at U.S. Ports

By Nickolas Roth

On October 27, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a hearing titled "Prevention of and Response to the Arrival of a Dirty Bomb at a U.S. Port."

Reflections on US-Russian Relationship

Six years ago, Ambassador Linton Brooks offered some remarkably prescient thoughts on what the U.S.-Russian relationship might look like in 2015, and the implications for nuclear security cooperation — though, of course, he could not have anticipated the conflict in Ukraine. Brooks’ 2009 assessment is reproduced below, followed by his reflections on the topic today:

Two Recent Incidents of Insecurity

By Nickolas Roth

Are nuclear sites secure?  There are some who might assume the answer is yes and that we should not worry about the possibility of nuclear bomb material being stolen. Yet, recent history has repeatedly demonstrated that high security facilities thought to be secure were actually vulnerable. Two such incidents last month illustrated this idea.

U.S.-Russian Nuclear Security Cooperation: Rebuilding Equality, Mutual Benefit, and Respect

By Nickolas Roth

In December 2014, Russia informed the United States that, after more than twenty years of cooperation, it was halting almost all nuclear security work between the two countries. My new Issue Brief written for the Deep Cuts Commission, titled “U.S.-Russian Nuclear Security Cooperation: Rebuilding Equality, Mutual Benefit, and Respect,” explains how the two countries share responsibility for things getting to this point.

Congress Gives Thumbs Up to International Nuclear Security Conventions

As part of the USA Freedom Act, Congress yesterday passed key legislation that will finally permit U.S. ratification of two important treaties that strengthen international nuclear security. While the Senate gave its advice and consent for ratification of the 2005 amendment to the Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials (CPPNM) and the International Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (ICSANT) years ago, the treaties require parties to criminalize certain acts related to nuclear terrorism, so passage of implementing legislation was needed before the United States could ratify them.  Failure to ratify these key treaties on nuclear security and nuclear terrorism before any of the first three nuclear security summits, when the United States was pushing the world to act on nuclear security, has been a substantial embarrassment.

Summary of Nonproliferation funding in Obama Administration’s fiscal year 2016 Budget Request

By Nickolas Roth

The Obama administration is proposing to boost Department of Energy nonproliferation funding to $1.94 billion—more than a$300 million increase from what Congress appropriated last year—in fiscal year 2016. But this is an increase over the very low fiscal year 2015 budget proposed by the administration and then further cut by Congress. Both Congress and the Russian government have cut back on further U.S.-funded nuclear security work in Russia, and the Obama administration has yet to develop major new initiatives that could absorb those resources.

Why Security Fails

By Roger G. Johnston

In thinking about how nuclear security and safeguards can fail, it is useful to keep in mind why security usually fails in general.  Most security managers and organizations have a good understanding of the assets they are trying to protect, the resources available to them to protect those assets, and the consequences should security fail (though this is sometimes greatly underestimated).  They often have a reasonably accurate understanding of the threats they face—who might attack, why, how, when, and with what goals and resources.  What is often lacking is a good understanding of the vulnerabilities—the weaknesses in the security that can be exploited by the threats—and how those vulnerabilities can be mitigated or eliminated.