Improving the Security of All Nuclear Materials

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September 20, 2016

Mark Fitzpatrick, Elena Sokova, Miles Pomper, Laura Rockwood, Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress, Matthew Cottee

Legal, Political, and Institutional Options to Advance International Oversight

Report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS),
the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) and
the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation (VCDNP)

Commissioned by the Government of Switzerland

Elena Sokova, Rolf Stalder, Laura Rockwood, and Mark Fitzpatrick

Elena Sokova, Rolf Stalder, Laura Rockwood, and Mark Fitzpatrick

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Read the full report “Improving the Security of All Nuclear Materials”

Excerpt

The following is an excerpt of the executive summary:

About four-fifths of the weapons-usable nuclear materials in the world are in non-civilian programmes. This means not only as the explosive core in active or reserve nuclear weapons, but also as fuel in naval and military research reactors, highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium at production sites, in storage, or declared excess to military uses, but not yet transferred to other programmes or eliminated. Yet coordinated global efforts to enhance the security of nuclear materials have been almost exclusively concentrated on the estimated 17% of such nuclear materials in the civilian sector.

Ideally, all HEU and plutonium of the same grade should have at least the same level of adequate security regardless of the possessor or purpose, since the materials pose the same threat. In practice, however, the security of materials can vary depending on whether they are used in the civilian or military sectors. The Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and Nuclear Facilities (CPPNMNF – as the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material was renamed after the 2005 amendment came into force in May 2016), as well as International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) security guidelines such as INFCIRC/225/Rev.5, describe how civilian materials should be secured. No such explicit guidelines exist on how to secure materials outside of the civilian sector. Nor is there comprehensive public knowledge about the state of security of such materials in all countries with nuclear weapons programmes.

It has often been asserted that nuclear materials in non-civilian use are well protected because they are under military control. However, the number of troubling security breaches involving nuclear material in military use, as well as some examples involving civilian nuclear facilities, belies this casual assumption, underscoring why the world should not simply accept the unsubstantiated ‘solemn word’ of authorities that security is as tight as needed. The list of incidents includes insider threats, peaceful incursions for demonstration purposes, theft, armed attack, and, most recently, over-flights by drones and computer hacking. Our report includes a number of examples of incidents at civilian facilities as well because they demonstrate areas of vulnerability that may also apply to the noncivilian sector. The record offers a compelling case for why security must be enhanced for all nuclear material.

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