A Nuclear Security Summit primer

By John Mecklin | March 27, 2016

Heads of state and their entourages, nonprofit officials, think tank fellows, nuclear industry executives, academic and other researchers, and journalists will converge from around the world to attend the fourth and possibly last Nuclear Security Summit this week in Washington, D.C. The task of the summit—securing nuclear weapons, fissile material, and nuclear facilities so terrorists can't use them to wreak nuclear havoc, either through sabotage or by building and detonating a nuclear bomb—seems anything but theoretical just now.

Recent news reports describe an hours-long video, found by French police after Islamic State terror attacks in Paris this past November, that follows a senior official at a Belgian nuclear research center as he moves between home and work. The intent of this video surveillance is unclear, but the Belgian government dispatched troops to guard the country's nuclear facilities against attack not long after discovery of the recording, and just days before Islamic State launched attacks in March that killed more than 30 people in Brussels.

The Bulletin covers nuclear security and nuclear terrorism issues regularly and closely as a matter of course, but we asked a variety of experts to address these issues in the run up to this Nuclear Security Summit. Here is a quick guide to some of that coverage:

Nuclear security: Continuous improvement or dangerous decline?

Ahead of the Nuclear Security Summit, top experts from Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs offer ideas for improved nuclear security that prevents terrorists from making a nuclear weapon.

Banning the production of highly enriched uranium

Leading experts from Princeton University's Program on Science and Global Security explain why it is feasible for all production of highly enriched uranium—for military and civilian purposes—to be banned, and how such a ban could also be extended to plutonium.

Sam Nunn on the Nuclear Security Index and slowing progress on safeguarding nuclear materials

Former US Sen. Sam Nunn, co-architect of the Nunn-Lugar Act, talks to the Bulletin about his organization’s most recent Nuclear Security Index and the upcoming Nuclear Security Summit.

The Nuclear Security Summit will leave unfinished work

A senior research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies explores the options for continuing the work of Nuclear Security Summits after the fourth and likely last summit ends.

How China needs to improve its legal framework on nuclear security

A Harvard expert on China's nuclear industry gives his detailed analysis of the changes in law, regulation, cybersecurity, and physical protection that are needed to improve the security of Chinese fissile material.

William Perry's nuclear nightmare

The former defense secretary shares his nightmare scenario in this video produced by the William J. Perry Project: A nuclear terrorist attack on Washington, DC, followed by martial law and detention centers. 

Debunking nuclear security hype on the eve of the Nuclear Security Summit

A project manager with the international nonprofit CRDF Global argues that there is too much sensationalism in coverage of nuclear security, which threatens to undermine real efforts to make the world safer.

Roundtable: What path for nuclear security beyond the 2016 summit?

Experts from Ghana, Turkey, and the United States debate how much the Nuclear Security Summits have accomplished; what still must be achieved to ensure the security of nuclear materials worldwide; and whether, after the final scheduled summit, the international community should seek to continue the process.

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