Progress and Gaps

The United States Should Chew Gum and Walk on Nuclear Security

By Nickolas Roth

Last weekend, the New York Times published a debate on whether, as a result of tension over Ukraine, the United States should cut off nuclear security cooperation with Russia. As the Times reported before the debate, Russia may be bringing nearly all of this cooperation to an end–but there are some in the United States saying the U.S. government should act to end it whether or not Russia is willing to continue. Given the deteriorating relationship between the two countries, this issue should be debated now. We are continuing the debate on Nuclear Security Matters and welcome readers to send us their thoughts. 

Strengthening International Cooperation on Nuclear Materials Security

By Nickolas Roth

Matthew Bunn, Will Tobey, Hui Zhang, and Nickolas Roth recently participated in a two-day roundtable discussion sponsored by the Stanley Foundation on U.S. nuclear security cooperation with Russia and China. The discussion, which involved experts from around the world, focused on overcoming challenges to nuclear security cooperation and ensuring that countries put in place effective and sustainable nuclear security measures with strong security culture. Although the roundtable was not for attribution, you can read a memo summarizing the discussion here.

A Response to Critics of U.S.-Russian Nuclear Security Cooperation

By Nickolas Roth

Most U.S. policymakers support critical U.S. investments in improving security to prevent the theft of nuclear weapons and weapons usable material in Russia. A few, however, are starting to raise doubts about whether this cooperation is a good idea. Skeptics argue that, because of Russia’s incursion into Ukraine, the federal government needs to make a stronger case for nuclear security cooperation with Russia. They argue that the U.S. case needs to address issues like the cost of nuclear security programs, the fungibility of money given to Russia for security upgrades, and the marginal benefit of nuclear security spending in Russia. The problem with these concerns is that they do not acknowledge the purpose of nuclear security cooperation: reducing the threat of nuclear terrorism.

The Russian Tie We Can't Cut

By William Tobey, Matthew Bunn, and Nickolas Roth

“I continue to be much more concerned, when it comes to our security, with the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan.” So said President Obama last March, weighing the danger of nuclear terrorism against that of Russian aggression in Ukraine. Yet our research shows that his administration proposes cutting the amount of money spent on an array of programs to secure nuclear bomb materials around the world and keep them out of terrorists’ hands — to $555 million next year from $700 million in fiscal 2014. And in both houses of Congress, there are efforts to legislate a suspension of nuclear security cooperation with Russia.

IAEA Conference on Advances in Nuclear Forensics

By Mary Fall Wade

Two weeks ago, 330 attendees from over 86 member states and several international organizations convened for the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) International Conference on Advances in Nuclear Forensics, a three-day meeting in Vienna, Austria. Nuclear forensics seeks to identify the history and origin of nuclear material, by looking, as the IAEA puts it, at “the properties of the nuclear or other radioactive material through physical, chemical, elemental, and isotopic analysis, including major, minor, and trace constituents.” Once a given sample of material is characterized, the information can be interpreted by comparing it with other existing or known materials elsewhere.

Don't Let Nuclear-Security Cooperation with Russia Lapse

Nickolas Roth and Robert GardBy Nickolas Roth and Robert Gard
Republicans and Democrats alike have traditionally understood that investing in nuclear security is a small price to pay compared with the devastating economic, political and social costs of nuclear terrorism. That’s why U.S. cooperation with Russia and other countries to secure vulnerable nuclear material has enjoyed bipartisan support.

GAO Report on Radiological Security

By Nickolas Roth

Recently, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held a hearing that highlighted some truly alarming information about the status of radiological security in the United States.  The hearing began with a description from Senator Carper (D-DE) of the Boston marathon bomb attacks. He then speculated on the hypothetical consequences of the use of a Radiological Dispersion Device (RDD) or “dirty bomb” (interestingly, an old high-activity Cs-137 source was removed from Massachusetts General Hospital after the bombing).

Harrington on Radiological Security

 “An RDD [Radiological Dispersion Device] detonated in a major metropolitan area could result in economic costs in the billions of dollars as a result of evacuations, relocations, cleanup, and lost wages. Radioactive sources such as Cobalt, Cesium, Americium, and Iridium are used worldwide for many legitimate purposes and are located at thousands of sites in the United States and around the world.

Bunn on 10th Anniversary of Global Threat Reduction Initiative

By Matthew Bunn
I’ve got a new piece in The National Interest celebrating ten years of the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), which has made remarkable strides in reducing the risks of nuclear and radiological terrorism.  They are the ones who did the actual work of getting the highly enriched uranium out of Ukraine before this year’s crises, to take just one example.

Culp Provides New Details on Nonproliferation Budget Cuts

By Nickolas Roth
Despite making reducing the threat of nuclear terrorism one of his signature issues, President Obama has proposed budget cuts that would cause delays in core nuclear security programs.  David Culp, who works for the Friends Committee on National Legislation, recently wrote an excellent article in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists that addresses this issue and provides interesting new details.

Tenth Anniversary of Global Threat Reduction Initiative

By Nickolas Roth
September 11, 2001 convinced decision-makers in Washington that terrorists were capable of carrying out catastrophic attacks on the United States. The idea that an individual or group could make a bomb from nuclear or radiological material was no longer just an outlandish scenario, but a realistic threat that needed to be addressed. Ten years ago this week, the Bush administration responded to that threat by establishing the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI).

Conflicting Views on Nuclear Security in House Armed Services Committee

By Nickolas Roth
Funding U.S. programs that enhance nuclear security has been a controversial issue this year in Congress. The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) recently released its version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2015. The results are a mixed bag on the nuclear security front. The committee proposes picking up some of the slack the Obama administration left for nonproliferation programs — increasing the administration’s request by $10 million overall — but it also slashed a key nuclear security effort and called for putting all nuclear security cooperation with Russia on hold.

How Nuclear Material Accounting Can Contribute to Nuclear Security

By Jonas Siegel
Like its predecessor summits, the recently concluded Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague acknowledged the role that nuclear material accounting can play in securing materials from unauthorized use. The emphasis of this and past initiatives, however, has been on improving national laws and regulations—and primarily in states without nuclear weapons. States have yet to develop comprehensive requirements that address the full scope of nuclear risks and that are meant to be adopted by all states—including nuclear weapons states.

Select Quotes on Nuclear Security Funding from Congressional Hearings

By Nickolas Roth
The Obama administration has proposed significant cuts to nuclear security programs.   The House Armed Services Committee bill would reduce the scale of the cuts for one nuclear security program (the Global Threat Reduction Initiative) while aggressively slashing another (International Material Protection and Cooperation); the debate over nuclear security spending will likely continue throughout the year. I’ve pulled some select quotes from Congressional hearings on nuclear security, which I plan to update as needed.

China Should Endorse the Hague Summit Pledge to Strengthen Nuclear Security Implementation

By Hui Zhang
The most significant achievement to emerge from the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit was a pledge by 35 countries to observe the terms of a joint agreement, known as Strengthening Nuclear Security Implementation. This document committed the signatories to incorporate the principles and guidelines of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)regarding nuclear security into their national laws, and to allow teams of international experts to periodically evaluate their security procedures. Promoted strongly by the chairs of all three nuclear summits—the United States, South Korea, and the Netherlands— the 2014 initiative is an important step towards creating a robust global security system designed to prevent nuclear materials from falling into the hands of terrorists.

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