Blog Post - Nuclear Security Matters

Task Force on DOE Nuclear Nonproliferation Emphasizes Importance of Continued U.S.-Russian Nuclear Security Cooperation

July 29, 2014

By Matthew Bunn

The interim report of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) Task Force on Nuclear Nonproliferation is just out.  It lays out a range of broad recommendations for strengthening nonproliferation efforts at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) -- and in particular emphasizes that the United States still has vital national security interests in continuing nuclear security cooperation with Russia, despite Russia’s behavior in Ukraine and all the important nuclear security improvements already made there. 

The task force was chaired by Albert Carnesale (retired chancellor of UCLA, former Dean of the Kennedy School, and a member of the Belfer Center’s Board and International Council); Gary Samore and I were both among the members. 

Secretary of Energy Ernie Moniz asked SEAB to create the task force to look into ways to strengthen DOE’s nonproliferation efforts, and in particular whether they were focused on the right priorities.  The interim report says that while DOE’s nonproliferation programs “have made and are making substantial contributions to U.S. national security,” they have no risk-informed approach to deciding what efforts should be the highest priorities, and often have difficulty making the case for what they have decided to do to the White House and the Congress.

The panel emphasized that “Given the immense consequences of a nuclear terrorist attack and the modest costs of nuclear security, the basic U.S. policy should be to provide sufficient funding so that no effort that shows promise of being able to make a significant and lasting reduction in the risk of nuclear terrorism will be delayed because money is not available to implement it.”  (A Managing the Atom report we’ll be releasing this week argues that the Obama administration’s fiscal year 2015 budget request violates this rule, cutting nuclear security budgets so deeply that key projects are being slowed as a result.)

On work with Russia, the task force acknowledged that nuclear security cooperation is encountering “rocky political waters” in both Washington and Moscow, and recommended that DOE develop plans to protect U.S. interests in several scenarios – including scenarios in which substantial nuclear security cooperation was able to continue and ones in which this proved not to be possible. 

But the interim report argues that DOE should make every effort to continue this cooperation, saying that despite “tremendous improvements” in security and accounting for Russia’s nuclear stockpiles, there are still “vulnerabilities… that a sophisticated conspiracy could exploit.”  While Russia should take responsibility for securing its stockpiles on its own, the task force argues that at present it is not yet making some of the investments the United States believes are critical, so that “the work of securing these stockpiles will not get done to the standards necessary unless the United States continues to invest” – while simultaneously working to convince Russia to “increase its own investment and strengthen its own rules.” 

With the large-scale equipment phase of cooperation largely complete, the report recommends that DOE develop new approaches for an “ongoing, long-term nuclear security cooperation effort” that are more equal, focused both on further improvements in Russia and the United States and helping other countries to beef up their own nuclear security measures.  In particular, the task force recommends that if political conditions permit, DOE should work with Russia to develop strategic plans for consolidation, allowing both countries to carry out their civilian and military nuclear activities with the smallest possible number of locations with separated plutonium or highly enriched uranium.

The task force’s final report is slated for December.

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Task Force on DOE Nuclear Nonproliferation Emphasizes Importance of Continued U.S.-Russian Nuclear Security Cooperation.” Nuclear Security Matters, July 29, 2014, https://nuclearsecuritymatters.belfercenter.org/publication/task-force-doe-nuclear-nonproliferation-emphasizes-importance-continued-us-russian.