Blog Post - Nuclear Security Matters

Index Results Highlight Need for Path Forward After Summits End

Jan. 22, 2016

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?

The NTI Index is a unique public assessment that tracks progress on nuclear security conditions around the world. It provides results from 176 countries and offers a comprehensive, data-driven foundation to help catalyze dialogue, outline concerns and promote action, and recommend opportunities for the Nuclear Security Summit.

The first three Nuclear Security Summits led to significant progress by bringing unprecedented high-level attention to nuclear security. Countries made vital upgrades to their regulatory frameworks; strengthened border controls; ratified nuclear security agreements like the 2005 Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM); and reduced or eliminated their weapons-usable nuclear materials. Despite this progress, however, the work of securing all nuclear materials and facilities remains unfinished at a time when terrorist threats are evolving and new threats are emerging.

It is within this context that the Index results highlight three areas of concern:

  • First, the “theft ranking” of 24 countries with weapons-usable nuclear materials shows progress on securing and eliminating nuclear materials has slowed since the 2014 summit. In the two years prior to the release of the second edition of the Index in January 2014, seven countries had eliminated their weapons-usable nuclear materials and the Index found 19 improvements in five key security and control measures included in the Index. In contrast, this year’s Index shows that only one country—Uzbekistan—has eliminated its materials and there were no improvements in those five key security measures.
  • Second, this year’s Index for the first time assessed regulatory requirements for protecting nuclear facilities against cyber attacks. A successful cyber attack could knock out critical systems that provide access control or cooling for spent fuel, leading to the theft of weapons-usable nuclear materials or a significant radiological release. As the New York Times reported, the Index shows that countries are ill-prepared for this emerging threat—20 had no requirements to protect nuclear facilities from cyber attacks.
  • Finally, in a new “sabotage ranking” of 45 countries with nuclear power plants, reprocessing facilities, or large research reactors, there were clear deficits in regulatory frameworks, particularly in countries with only research reactors but with ambitions to develop nuclear power. Out of 9 such countries, all but one scored in the bottom half for security and control measures.

Where does this leave the international community as the final summit approaches? If the summits end without an agreed path forward to continue progress and sustain high-level political attention on nuclear security, the international community risks seeing efforts to strengthen nuclear security languish or, worse, backslide. It is imperative then that the 2016 summit makes defining a path forward a priority. The Index report, available at www.ntiindex.org, provides three recommendations:

  • First, in the short term, a core group of countries must agree to keep nuclear security high on international and national agendas through continued meetings with an ambitious program.
  • Finally, the International Atomic Energy Agency must be strengthened so it can enhance its central role in nuclear security through, for example, its nuclear security guidance and peer review services.

As the threat of nuclear terrorism continues to evolve with new actors and new threats, countries cannot and must not rest on the progress that has already been made. While the 2016 summit will be an important milestone, it must not mark the end of high-level attention on nuclear security. Instead, it provides a final window of opportunity for countries to agree on a path for continued nuclear security progress in a new phase of strengthened and lasting international cooperation.

For more on the NTI Index, including results, recommendations, a new interactive tools, see www.ntiindex.org.

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Index Results Highlight Need for Path Forward After Summits End .” Nuclear Security Matters, January 22, 2016, https://nuclearsecuritymatters.belfercenter.org/publication/index-results-highlight-need-path-forward-after-summits-end.