Right-Sizing the “Loose Nukes” Security Budget: Part 2

By Kenneth N. Luongo | June 25, 2010

In Part 1 of this article, the recent and historical budgets for securing vulnerable nuclear materials around the globe were analyzed. Recommendations were also made for increasing the budgets for the key National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) programs, including the International Nuclear Material Protection Cooperation (INMPC) and Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) programs, in fiscal year (FY) 2010 and then through 2014. For FY 2010, it was suggested that through a supplemental appropriations request the Obama administration ask for an additional $62 million to restore the GTRI program to its FY 2009 funding level of $395 million and that the INMPC budget be increased by $53 million to $625 million. It was recommended that the INMPC program increase to $650 million in FY 2011 and then grow to $700–$750 million through FY 2014, and that the GTRI program be funded at $550–$600 million in FY 2011 and then $700–$750 million through FY 2014.

Yet with these increased numbers comes the question of what more the programs can and should do. One driver for increased funding is the anticipation of new missions related to securing nuclear materials, particularly those focused on President Barack Obama’s goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear materials worldwide within four years. But there are many other proposals for improving global fissile material security that should be considered. Fifteen ideas for new policy initiatives that frame the mission in twenty-first-century terms and meet the evolving nuclear threat are listed below.1

Issue a Presidential Decision Directive on nuclear and radiological material security. Surprisingly, in his first 18 months in office, President Obama has not issued a new directive regarding nuclear and radiological security. This new directive should include policy objectives, funding needs, specific agency responsibilities, and success metrics. It should assign specific roles and responsibilities to individual agencies for emergency/contingency nonproliferation operations (for example, requiring the Defense Department to provide and pay for airlifts in a timely fashion and identifying national laboratory technical specialists for missions). In addition, it should reflect the need to assure the implementation of commitments made at the international Nuclear Security Summit held in Washington D.C. in April 2010.

Create a global nuclear material security roadmap. Countries around the world should agree on a nuclear security roadmap that should be based on measurable benchmarks of vulnerability and proven security upgrades. The roadmap does not necessarily have to be a public document, but it should be built on the highest to lowest priority locations and provide both financial and technical resources to quickly correct the problems. The roadmap should be supplemented with a plan for international scientific cooperation (governmental and nongovernmental) to prevent nuclear theft and terrorism.

Develop a Comprehensive Fissile Material Security Framework. There are at least a dozen different international agreements and initiatives providing guidance on nuclear security. In addition, each nation has its own regulations and laws. But these instruments are not tied together and adherence is often voluntary. This lack of an international framework agreement on fissile material security means there has been no organizing force to drive the agenda. A framework agreement that identifies the threats posed by vulnerable fissile materials (especially in relation to terrorism) and lists actions required to mitigate them should be established. This agreement would recognize the problem at a very high political level as a global priority and require adherents to take specific steps to address it. It is essential for the scope of any new framework to look beyond the obligations and capacities of governments by including civil society and the private sector as partners in this process.

Accelerate efforts to secure and eliminate global stockpiles of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium. Several essential policy objectives should be pursued. First, minimize the number of locations where fissile materials are stored. Second, eliminate and consolidate those materials (including downblending the maximum amount of excess military and civilian HEU). Third, improve security at all locations and reduce the size of global fissile material inventories. Fourth, extend international monitoring to cover all remaining excess military and civilian stockpiles.

Minimize, and then eliminate, the use of HEU. There is significant opposition from some nations to phasing out the use of HEU. For some, that opposition stems from the need to maintain production of medical isotopes. For others, it relates to the need to perform experiments, and still others want to keep the option of using HEU in naval propulsion.2 HEU, however, is the fissile material most vulnerable to exploitation by terrorists, and its use in civil applications heightens this danger. U.N. Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1887 calls upon states to “minimize to the greatest extent that is technically and economically possible” the use of HEU. The resolution, which passed unanimously on September 24, 2009, endorses a framework of actions to reduce global nuclear dangers and to strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), but its language leaves a wide margin for continued HEU use. Technological advances are producing HEU substitutes for even the most difficult cases. International agreement, therefore, should be sought on a timetable to phase out HEU and ultimately ban its civil use. Political and technical discussions should then be held on phasing it out in military and naval applications worldwide.

Extend and expand the Group of Eight (G-8) Global Partnership for another 10 years. The G-8 Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction has evolved into a successful effort to secure WMD, primarily in Russia. The Global Partnership should continue beyond its 2012 expiration. The multilateral character of the initiative must be preserved, and its focus expanded globally. There is a need for a multilateral corollary to the U.S. cooperative threat reduction effort that can operate on a global basis. It would not only provide a different option when a U.S. presence is unwanted, but also supplement the more than $1 billion the United States spends annually on cooperative nonproliferation and disarmament activities. The decision to implement these changes should be made at the 2010 G-8 meeting held in Canada on June 25-26. The Global Partnership’s expanded focus should encompass nuclear and other WMD security issues globally and assist developing nations to meet their UNSCR 1540 and 1887 obligations. The Global Partnership (including the U.S. contribution) should also continue to provide financing on the order of $20 billion over the next 10 years.

Create a multilateral WMD emergency rapid reaction force. The Proliferation Security Initiative has proven the value of conducting multilateral training and of interdicting WMD components at sea. Yet in scope and practice, the concept has been limited to addressing dangerous WMD materials in transit. The concept of an ad hoc multinational group focused on WMD security should be expanded: An international force should be created that can take swift, coordinated, multilateral action in the face of a nuclear emergency or disarmament opportunity. This proposal would allow, in advance of a crisis, for the clear delineation of the roles and responsibilities among agencies and partner countries based on threat/opportunity scenarios. It also would identify dedicated funding for operations, transport, integrated training, and other related needs. An additional, important policy objective is to ensure that necessary legal authorities are put in place to allow for the rapid extraction and return of foreign nuclear assets or materials to the United States, or to other countries if necessary.

Strengthen the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The IAEA has an important role in global nuclear security and the Nuclear Security Summit underscored the need for it to do more. However, its nuclear security activities are underfunded, it does not have enough technical staff, and it is ill prepared to fulfill increased demands in the future. Expanding the formal IAEA nuclear security budget is difficult in part because developing nations will want any increase matched by an equal increase in the technical cooperation budget. But in addition to assessed contributions, the IAEA can accept voluntary contributions–the United States makes a voluntary contribution each year–and these funds can be earmarked for specific security purposes without being subject to the regular board approval process. Therefore, these actions should be taken:

  • Developed countries should commit to increasing their voluntary IAEA contributions for the next four years and earmark the funds for nuclear security. The goal would be to match the IAEA’s current annual safeguards budget of about $150 million.
  • These countries should also agree to train a specific number of additional nuclear security specialists for assignment at the IAEA to fill the positions that the additional voluntary contributions would create.

Create regional nuclear training centers. Actions should also be taken on a regional basis to complement broader IAEA-strengthening efforts. For example, in the course of their collaboration on nuclear security improvement, the United States and Russia have created several regional nuclear training centers in Russia. These centers have concentrated expertise and training for nuclear facilities in need of security improvements. This concept should be expanded to include the establishment of regional training centers that would promote nuclear materials security in key areas around the globe. These centers would cultivate a local security culture, improve efficiency by consolidating training courses rather than repeating training to multiple audiences, and provide ready access to information on best practices for new partners. The U.S. is seeking funding for one new Nuclear Security Center of Excellence in the FY 2011 budget. But this should be supplemented with others that could be supported by Global Partnership nations and the IAEA.

Establish real-time monitoring of nuclear security. The IAEA manages an Incident and Emergency Center to monitor nuclear reactor safety around the globe, but the reporting is not done in real-time. This allows for sharing information on nuclear dangers but not for rapid reaction to threats. This concept should be expanded to the nuclear material security mission, but be supplemented with real-time information. Features might include satellite uplinks on all portal monitors and perimeter security equipment to provide real-time reporting on operational status and immediately log security alerts and breaches. A monitoring center could be manned by rotating international experts, and the information could be kept confidential (i.e., not made public). The goal would be constant real-time monitoring of all nuclear facilities under safeguards (IAEA or domestic) and rapid global alerting to security breaches to allow for swift response.

This idea could be expanded to nuclear weapons related facilities that are not subject to IAEA monitoring. Because security equipment in these states is often located at sensitive locations, the information could be downloaded to a monitoring center in one of the U.N. permanent five (P-5) countries that could be manned jointly by specialists from all five nations. This could be supplemented with a multiparty nuclear security hotline that would allow for immediate communication in the midst of suspicious incidents. (A similar hotline already exists between the United States and Russia to reduce the risk of a nuclear exchange stemming from accident, miscalculation, or surprise attack.) These proposals are likely to meet stiff resistance from the nuclear bureaucracy in many states, but that should not deter action in support of greater nuclear security.

Develop private-public partnerships for nonproliferation funding. Opportunities abound for partnership between government, civil society, and the private sector to create innovative nuclear nonproliferation solutions. One proposal is for the nuclear industry to contribute to a nonproliferation fund that would increase funding for IAEA activities or other nonproliferation purposes.3 For example, for every dollar in direct government subsidy received for new nuclear power plants, the nuclear industry would be required to contribute a portion of 1 percent to the nonproliferation fund. Alternatively, if a nation provides loan guarantees for new nuclear plants, the industry would pay a small percentage of the guarantees’ underwriting costs to the nonproliferation fund. Another proposal is to require utilities to contribute a very small percentage of the price of each nuclear-generated gigawatt hour to the nonproliferation fund. Estimates suggest that these various options could generate between $80 million and $300 million every year on a global basis.

These ideas should not be viewed as onerous to the nuclear power industry; they are similar to the responsibilities that the U.S. government has levied on the nuclear industry to deal with the issue of waste management. In this case, it would better link the nuclear power industry into the security dialogue, recognize explicitly the security implications of the expansion of nuclear power, offer a reputational benefit for the nuclear power industry, and increase the funds available for addressing nuclear security challenges.

Create a Nonproliferation Enterprise Fund. This fund would allow government programs to partner more effectively with the nongovernmental and university communities to assist them with nuclear and nonproliferation analysis, including assessing the implementation of commitments made at the April 2010 nuclear summit. Part of this fund could be dedicated to the development of the next generation of nonproliferation experts, who would be required to perform some government service in return for educational and training support. A precedent already exists for this type of cooperation in the energy field. Furthermore, such cooperation could lead to a needed “iron triangle” of public-private-civil society partnership to address global nuclear security challenges.

Secure all radiological sources in public buildings, beginning with U.S. hospitals. Radiological sources are used in every nation for medical, agricultural, governmental, and other applications. All nations should undertake efforts to ensure the highest security for these sources in publicly owned buildings, and a first step should be focused on major metropolitan hospitals. The NNSA has completed a pilot project with the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania that better secured all of its radiological sources and initiated cooperation with local authorities.4 The Obama administration should build on this important success, and other nations should commit to securing radiological materials in all major metropolitan hospitals. The United States alone has around 500 such buildings that could be included in this effort, for a cost of approximately $125 million.

Create a global nuclear security baseline. Despite the detailed technical information the IAEA provides for the securing of nuclear facilities and the other domestic regulations and international conventions that govern nuclear material protection, no universally accepted standard exists for securing nuclear materials and weapons. The Obama administration should call for the establishment of a baseline nuclear security standard to jump-start this process.5

Enact a P-5 fissile material cutoff agreement. A global Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty faces significant challenges. India and Pakistan, for example, are opposed to it and continue to produce fissile materials for their weapons programs. However, one possibility is for the five NPT nuclear weapon states to take the lead and announce that they will agree to end fissile material production.6 Significant challenges to this more limited concept could arise, particularly from China, but the P-5 have currently stopped producing fissile material for weapons; this could be a common starting point.

Conclusion. President Obama committed the United States to move the security of nuclear and radiological materials to the top of the international agenda. Yet so far he has not adequately budgeted for this goal, and his administration has not put forth many bold new ideas for improving overall global nuclear security. The Nuclear Security Summit in April 2010 drew together key countries, and they pledged to implement existing international commitments to protect the international community from nuclear terrorism. But much more needs to be done both to meet President Obama’s four-year pledge to secure vulnerable nuclear materials around the world and also to meet the new nuclear security challenges of the twenty-first century.

1. For more on these ideas, see Kenneth N. Luongo, “Loose Nukes in New Neighborhoods: The Next Generation of Proliferation Prevention,” Arms Control Today, May 2009, available at http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2009_5/Luongo; Kenneth N. Luongo, “Securing Vulnerable Nuclear Materials: Meeting the Global Challenge,” Stanley Foundation, Policy Analysis Brief, November 2009, available at http://www.stanleyfoundation.org/resources.cfm?id=404; and Partnership for Global Security, “G-8 Global Partnership: Adapting to New Realities,” press release, July 9, 2008, available at http://www.partnershipforglobalsecurity.org/Documents/press_release_g8gp_final.pdf.
2. “Global Fissile Material Report 2009: A Path to Nuclear Disarmament,” International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM), October 29, 2009, available at http://www.fissilematerials.org/ipfm/site_down/gfmr09.pdf; “Position Paper on the Minimisation of Civilian Uses of Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU),” Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization, December 2008, available at http://www.icnnd.org/research/ANSTO_HEU.doc; and “Why Highly Enriched Uranium is a Threat,” Nuclear Threat Initiative/James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, September 2009, available at http://www.nti.org/db/heu/index.html.
3. “Global Fissile Material Report 2008: Scope and Verification of a Fissile Material (Cutoff) Treaty,” IPFM, 2008, p. 115, endnote 93, available at http://www.fissilematerials.org/ipfm/site_down/gfmr08.pdf.
4. “NNSA, University of Pennsylvania and Philadelphia Police Raise the Bar for Radiological Security,” NNSA Public Affairs, press release, March 27, 2009.
5. A version of this proposal is outlined in detail in Matthew Bunn, “Securing the Bomb 2007,” Project on Managing the Atom, Harvard University, September 2007, pp. 40, 107-108, available at http://www.nti.org/e_research/securingthebomb07.pdf.
6. “Only India, Pakistan and possibly Israel, continue to produce fissile materials for nuclear weapons. The United States, United Kingdom, Russia, France, and North Korea have officially announced an end to their production for weapons, while China has indicated this unofficially.” “Global Fissile Material Report 2008,” IPFM, 2008, p. 7. A proposal for a P-5 Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty has also been promoted by former State Department official Amb. Norman Wulf.


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