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. Read more about Elbe Group Members Urge More Cooperation to Combat Nuclear Terrorism
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.) Read more about Fresh Thinking on Highly Enriched Uranium Research Reactor Conversions
Situated in a difficult neighborhood, New Delhi has laid strong emphasis on both nuclear safety and security for a couple of decades now. Almost three decades of state-sponsored terrorism and insurgencies of varying scale and proportion within India have meant that security of nuclear materials and installations has been a great worry to India’s security and atomic energy establishments. India’s concerns even predate the Western focus on WMD terrorism, which gained prominence only after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States. Unfortunately, India’s excessive caution and secrecy in the nuclear arena has led the world to assume that India does not pay much attention to this issue or that it has inadequate security, which is far from the truth. Read more about India’s Nuclear Security
In prisons as in nuclear facilities, employees are tasked with guarding something highly dangerous in high-stress environments. Both face high costs in the event of failure, and both are especially vulnerable to complacency and insider threats. Given these parallels, two inmates’ dramatic break-out from a New York prison in early June offers nuclear security practitioners valuable insights into how to avert an equally dramatic (and potentially much more consequential) breech. Read more about The Dannemora Prison Break: Lessons for Nuclear Facilities
Six years ago, AmbassadorLinton 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:Read more about Reflections on US-Russian Relationship
More than a decade after its nuclear security recommendations first recognized the threat insiders pose to nuclear facilities, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has finally released its guide on nuclear material control and accounting for nuclear security. (This has been in the works for years.) Many people wrongly think that any material under international safeguards has accounting and control good enough for security purposes as well, but there are important differences.
Matthew Bunn, William Tobey, and I have a new op-ed in The Hill’s Congress Blog, “Don’t weaken our defenses against nuclear smuggling.” We wrote it in response to proposed legislation that would prohibit funding for fixed radiation detectors to catch nuclear smugglers – both for installing new ones and even for maintaining the ones U.S. taxpayers have already paid billions to install. We argue: Read more about Bunn, Tobey, and Roth on Nuclear Smuggling
The Fourth Nuclear Security Summit (NSS2016) takes place next year in the United States. The preparations by representatives of participating countries - so called Sherpas - have started. I am pleased to discuss the prospects of NSS2016 also with the readers of Nuclear Security Matters as a follow-up to a visit to Harvard University Belfer Center.
I cannot anticipate final recommendations of 53 national Sherpas, let alone the decisions of the Heads of States or Governments in the Summit. But let me offer a few initial thoughts from a Finnish perspective on what issues will be addressed and what could be some of the outcomes. Debate on these topics is going on and will continue. Read more about Towards a New Phase in Nuclear Security Cooperation
In the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit Communiqué, leaders from more than 50 countries “reaffirm[ed] the fundamental responsibility of States, in accordance with their respective obligations, to maintain at all times effective security of all nuclear and other radioactive materials, including nuclear materials used in nuclear weapons, and nuclear facilities under their control. This responsibility includes taking appropriate measures to prevent non-state actors from obtaining such materials – or related sensitive information or technology – which could be used for malicious purposes, and to prevent acts of terrorism and sabotage.” Read more about Implementing International Mechanisms to Ensure the Security of Military Materials
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. Read more about Why Security Fails
Russia’s state nuclear corporation, Rosatom, has put out a statement on the Boston Globe story on Russia calling a halt to nearly all U.S.-Russian nuclear security cooperation. (See Russian stories based on the statement here and here.) The statement, in essence, tries to avoid responsibility by saying that cooperation is continuing (citing work on returning highly enriched uranium from other countries to Russia), and to blame the United States for any interruption (citing the U.S. cutoff of nuclear energy and nuclear science cooperation as part of the sanctions over Ukraine). Read more about Russia puts positive spin on nuclear security cooperation – which is good
As the Boston Globe reported Monday, Russia has put a stop, for now, to most U.S.-Russian nuclear security cooperation. Russian, U.S., and world security will be in more danger as a result. But some small pieces of cooperation continue – and with creativity and effort, it may be possible to rebuild a robust nuclear security dialogue of equals, rather than a donor-recipient relationship. Read more about Rebuilding U.S.-Russian Nuclear Security Cooperation