BITS Research Report 97.1
November 1997

I. Where are we today?

Where from the START ? Zigzags of Nuclear Disarmament

by Alexander I. Nikitin


In January of 1998 the START II Treaty on reduction of US and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals would be commemorating its 5th anniversary from the moment it was signed by the Presidents of two leading nuclear powers. The best 'gift' ever in this respect could be provided by the Russian Parliament if, at last, it would ratify the Treaty which otherwise risks to become obsolete without formal entering into force.

Relations between Russia and the West in the 90s are as much dominated by the ups and downs in disarmament agenda as they were dominated by the arms race two-three decades ago. If the 'human rights' and 'democratization' issues (and rethoric) were a key to Soviet-Western debates before the collapse of the Soviet Union, now agenda of Russian-Western summits is very much disarmament centered. This is easily understandable, as far as after crisis of Communist ideology and shrinking of the Soviet geostrategic giant into fifteen economically weak states one of the biggest residual challenges which still emanate potential and real tensions in relations between Russia and the West is decaying but huge Russian nuclear heritage.

Nuclear arsenals of the USSR and the USA reeched their peaks in the mid-80s. It was during the Gorbachev era in the second half of 80s that necessity of immediate steps in nuclear reductions and the goal of complete nuclear disarmament in the future were recognized and announced by Moscow. In contrast to that period current attitude towards nuclear disarmament in the Russian political circles and public opinion has significantly changed towards less enthusiastic and more reserved. On the doctrinal level this change had various manifestations.

First, Russia has withdrawn an obligation (or rather political promise) of "no first use" of nuclear weapons given in 1982 at the Second Special UN GA Session on Disarmament. That was explained in numerous comments not only as a logical element of taking deterrence strategy but also as a compensation for the weakness of conventional means of deterence of a foreign aggression at the hands of Russia as compared to the previous conventional capabilities of undivided Soviet Army.

Secondly, given the need for nuclear deterrence, the ultimate goal of abolishing all nuclear weapons (proclaimed by late Gorbachev) has been decreased in priority and started to be seen as a very long term aim indeed. In fact B. Eltzyn as a President or his administration never listed the goal of achieving a nuclear-weapon free world among foreign policy objectives or priorities.

Changes in approach reflected in the nuclear posture were rather characteristic. By the mid-90's the role of the nuclear forces relatively increased in political and strategic thinking in Russia as a reaction to a drawback of the country which has occured in the 90's. Recently issued study commisioned by the Russian parliament with certain degree of overstatement postulates: "Does Russia need nuclear forces today and in the future? There is a nation-wide consensus in answer to this question. Everybody - military specialists, academic experts, politicians -unanimously claim: Russia needs nuclear forces - today as much as in the future"

Motivations for that could be summarized in two basic groups of arguments:

Firstly, Russia appeared on the international arena much weaker militarily and strategically than the former Soviet Union due to the split of the military-industrial infrastructure (six formerely biggest and strongest military districts with all their infrastructure appeared out of the Russian territory, missile defense and air defense systems seriously undermined, navy lost important part of ship-building and servicing facilities, new borders stay in significant parts unprotected and even unmarked etc.) Under such conditions Russian military planners are trying to rely upon not only strategic deterrence but also reintroduced notion of "tactical nuclear deterrence" against regional and local non-nuclear threats.

Secondly, more broad political argument is employed: Russia being weakened not only militarily but also politically, economically and having lost its ideological leadership could support its status of a great power and "stay in the club" of international decision-makers only if it assures and stresses its nuclear status. Some tones of this argumenting resembles argumentation used by France at the early stages of creation of independent nuclear capabilities.

Though there are certain voices in Russia in favor of complete elimination of nuclear weapons, in general the debates shifted from "non-nuclear future" dilemma (which aiready was formulated at the late 80's as a goal worth political efforts by M.Gorbachev) towards the formula "how much of disarmament wouldn't harm weakened Russia's national interests". Such an approach was summarized in analytical report commisioned by the Russian parliament in 1996 in the following form: disarmament is not necesserily a velue in itself; it becomes a velue if it enlarges startegic stability and/or if it serves [unilateral] national interests of the country. "It is undoubfful that disarmament negotiations as such both politicaly and dipiomaticaly enhance trust among negotiating parties and are a somewhat stabilizing factor. At the same time negotiated agreements could negatively influence strategic stability... Disarmament, reduction of weapons, even a large one, shouldn't be an only objective of the agreement, especially if agreement lowers security of one of the sides."

Such statements continue to be based on the "zero-sum game" logic supposing that stability is mostly achieved through preservation of numerical balance. What though is underestimated in such statements is an additional safety which results from any diminishing of the quantity of nuclear devices able to malfunction, to get to the wrong hands or be used in a result of combinations of technical and/or human errors.

It also should be pointed out that any failure of the prolonged disarmament negotiations would by itself create distrust and mutual suspicions of the sides which also results in strategic instability which should be carefully taken into consideration against instability which might be caused by implementation of the cuts.


START II as a Hostage of Linkages

What are the basic concerns expressed and amendments proposed on the START II in Russia? These concerns could be grouped into at least three categories: related to strategic balance, related to cost and period of implementation, and related to preservation of ABM treaty.

One of the major dissatisfaction of Russian critics of the treaty proceed from the "inability to trade adequate gains" from the 'giving up' heavy multi-warhead SS-18 missiles (termination of these powerful land-based missiles was considered by the American side as one of the highest priorities throughout negotiations); SS-18s were underused as a 'bargaining chip'.

There is a visible assymetry in scale and complexity of reductions. The US side need mainly (additionally to the START I implementation) eliminate 50 MX missiles and deactivate several dozens of heavy bombers: all other reductions are purely downloading of quantity of warheads without changing carriers and platforms and without obligations to destroy stored warheads. No build up is planned to fit into permitted configuration of the balance.

The Russian side is expected to implement physical destruction of the heavy missiles and their silos additionally to the downloading of certain types of missiles. And to fit into permitted configuration of triad the Russian side (if to follow traditional approach to balance) need to invest into building and deploying several hundreds (up to 690) of new missiles (if no new lower ceiling negotiated).

Concerns and debated suggestions iof amendments and modifications of the treaty from the Russian side could be summarized as follows.

  • Reversible Strategic Potential (rearmament potential) of the sides is to be balanced. Rearmamanet potentials concern deals with a possibility to reinstall for operational use of warheads which are removed but not destroyed (currently START II allows Russia to have about 650 reversible warheads, while the USA could posess as many as 4500-5000). There are different possible methods of dealing with this disbalance. One would be allow Russia to retain and download all of its SS-19 missiles. Another is undertake measures making reversibility of American Trident SLBM downloading and nuclear reorientation of conventional bombers more difficult or costly.
  • Deadline originally set for reaching START II ceilings (2003) was hardly relizable for Russia due to budgetary and technical constraints. In spring of 1997 the deadline was agreed to be shifted to the 31 December 2007. That was a part of compomise reached by President Clinton and President Eltzyn at their summit at Helsinki. This decision omits one of the most persistent arguments of the opponents of ratification of the Treaty.
  • Comoliance with ABM Treaty in narrow meaning is to be guaranteed by both sides. It is recommended to formulate at the resolution of ratification that Russia would break its participation at START II treaty if the USA would essentially violate or leave or prepare to leave the ABM treaty. By preparations to leave ABM treaty it is meant essential upgrade of financing of R&D aimed at creation of strategic missile defense systems prohibited by the treaty, as well as creation, testing or deployment of defense systems (and their components) limited by the ABM treaty.
  • Again Joint Statement of March 21, 1997 by two Presidents provide some space for a compromise, though, ironically, both sides continue the statement to be a unilateral victory: Russian side reeds it as a further prohibition of violations of ABM treaty while American side reeds it as a permission to continue with current shape of missile defense research.
  • Methods of liquidation of warheads and silos are economically and ecologically unfavorable to Russia and more favorable to the USA.
  • It is suggested to try to modify at least procedures of destruction of silos as well as to receive technological ald in ecologically safe methods of elimination of toxic geptil fuel of solid-fueled missiles.
  • Destruction of silos of missiles dismantled under treaty envisages sensible extra costs and in case of need of recovery new silos are too costly for current Russian economy. Critics of the Treaty propose to relax the START II limit of 90 on the number of SS-18 silos that may be converted, to allow all 154 silos left under START I to be converted for single-warheaded ICBMs.
  • Russia might try to negotiate a permission to deploy at sea at least one new type of SLBMs or deploy of newly elaborated SLBM in silos on land (downloaded to single warhead)
  • Window of vulnerability at the end of first 7 years long stage of reductions is forseen by Russian strategists if MIRVed launchers would be, as required by stages scheme, cut down to 120 at most (1200 warheads) while permitted SS-25s would be produced and deployed slowly (if at all), not sufficiently to ciose widening gap with US.
  • To avoid window of vulnerability and to be able to meet time pressure Russian side might try to renegotiate or omit phases (stages) of reductions within general length of treaty's implementation
  • Finally, there is a political linkage between NATO enlargement (which has become inevitable after decisions of Madrid NATO summit in July 1997) and Russia's readiness to reduce armamanets. Such link has not only "ideological" meaning (as one opponent of the treaty formulated it "it's stupid to disarm when another military bloc clearly approach your borders"). Some Russian strategic planners were seriously frightened by the implications for the strategic balance of the probable deployment of tactical nuclear or/and high-precision medium- and long-range conventional weapons on the territories of Poland and other new potential NATO members. Such fears were partially (though not fully) omitted as a result of signing of Russian-NATO agreement on the 27th of May, 1997.

More concerns and amendments are debated. At the same time it is clear that some of them are of different scale and importance than others. Basically, the final term of implementation is negotiable as far as Russian side is ready to the basic provisions of the Treaty. Some other concerns could be met "on the margins" without endangering the treaty as such. The only condition which could bury the treaty is clear willingness of Russian side to link START II with full compliance of sides to ABM limitations multiplied by the clear willingness of the US side to proceed with elaboration of the national missile defense system.

After all, could Russia afford to keep in the future its nuclear forces on the level which is higher than the ceiling defined by the START II ? The answer is clearly negative. Considering necessities to invest into missile defense (or counter-missile defense technologies) and necessity to cope with US superlority in air-based component and demand for simultaneous substitution of fisically old parts of the arsenal with the new items, combined consequential cost of measures necessary in case of non-ratification of the START II would be for Russia even higher than uneasy cost of its implementation.


START III: a Basket Without Bottom

What is START III ? A label for yet unexisting negotiations and future Treaty between Russia and USA on the cuts of strategic nuclear weapons.

How it was initiated ? The first amorphous description of parameters for required treaty were debated by experts in 1995-1996 as a way to overcome certain dissatisfaction with parameters of START II. An official "blessing" to the process of START III was given by the Presidents of the USA and Russia in the special Joint Statement signed on March 21 1997 in Helsinki.

When it is expected to be concluded ? Somewhere between 1997 and 2007 (which is a new deadline for accomplishing the cuts envisaged by START II). But from the very beginning it is clear that START III negotiations wouldn't be short and easy. For sure they take years.

As a matter of fact START III is at present moment rather a wide "basket" for all yet unresolved issues of nuclear disarmament. It has several thematical blocks, like new lower ceilings for nuclear launchers, matters of destruction of warheads, interrelation between nuclear disarmament and development of strategic and tactical missile defense, etc. It is quite probable that after some time the "bunch" of START III negotiations would split onto two or even more new agreements, treaties each of which would have its own destiny.

Several principle agreements (or rather preliminary "mutual understandings") were laid as a foundation for the START III process.

  1. Main driving force of the START III negotiations is a new lower level of permitted quantity of nuclear strategic warheads. Figures of 2000-2500 are quoted in the Joint Statement of two Presidents. At the same time some officials of Defense Committee of the Russian Duma advocate the level of 1000-1500.
  2. START III process would include as "separate track of negotiations" cuts of long-ranged sea-based cruise missiles which have stayed untouched by all existing disarmament treaties. Addition of this new class of weapons to the disarmament process is an achivement by itself. But it is not occasional that these negotiations are called a "separate track". Cuts in sea-based weapons require new yet unagreed means of verification, inspections. Their storing and further destruction is not thought through or negotiated as for now. Even bigger problem could be created by the fact that cruise missiles could be easily reloaded from nuclear-warheaded to conventional warheads and reverse. Methods of counting them have a lot of "underwater stones". There is a great probability that this "separate track" would lead to a separate agreement different from START III mainframe.
  3. Another principal "novelty" of START III would be an inclusion into negotiations of the tactical nuclear arsenals of the sides. Numerically tactical arsenals of the sides are by a factor larger than their strategic arsenals. And many tactical nuclear weapons of the USA and Russia are more powerfull than those counted as strategic. For example, US and Russian tactical nuclear bombs reach a level of up to 250-350 Kt (compare to strategic 40 Kt "Poseidon" or 170 Kt "Muniteman-2").
  4. Following unilateral (but parallel) initiatives of the USA and Russia announced in 1991 both sides are proceeding with TNW partial disarmament even without (or before) any formal bilateral agreement. By 1996 Russia, for example, has cuted by one-third sea-based TNW and nuclear bombs of the Naval aviation and about 50% of the TNW for the land-based tactical aviation and bombers. Cuts of tactical warheads aimed for anti-aircraft defense are also reaching around 50% of the 1991 level. That makes quite possible relatively quickly reach an agreement nailing down ceilings for TNW which are already reached or approached in course of these parallel unilateral cuts.

    At the same time tasks of American and Russian TNW are very much assymetrical because of significant differencies between geopolitical location and situation of two countries. This leads to visible differences in requirments of the sides in the TNW sphere and complicates comprehensive agreement on the deep symmetrical coordinated cuts of tactical nukes and carriers.

  5. START III should include a whole set of new measures enhancing transparency in respect to existing nuclear warheads (both active and stored) and their physical destruction. Requirments and procedural rules for destruction of warheads would differ START III from previous disarmament treaties which basically where aimed at cutting rather nuclear carriers and launchers than warheads themselves. This part of negotiations would be aimed first of all at providing assurance against quick rearmament of any of the sides using deactivated and stored but undestructed warheads. As known this issue of "reversible strategic potential" or "virtual arsenal" of the sides is among main obstacles to the ratification of START II and hopefully would be taken care of within the framework of START III.
  6. One more principal matter of START III "basket" is an issue of upgrading already existing nuclear disarmament treaties to the status of permanent ("eternal").
  7. As for the inclusion into the nuclear disarmament process of other nuclear states (China, GB, France and undeclared nuclear states) it seems premature to look for ways of their involvement within the framework of START III process. Still the START III framework is mainly designed for the levels (counted in thousands) and types of nuclear weapons which are not chracteristic for any other states but the USA and Russia. A different START IV process of negotiations on yet unelaborated principles could be a multilateral while START III would remain a bilateral, not multilateral treaty.


Recovery after START ?

Among directions of future talks within a START framework Presidents Clinton and Eltzyn stressed at Helsinki summit a necessity to elaborate legal and technical measures and guarantees to assure irreversibility of already existing disarmament agreements. This is very timely and necessary direction of talks indeed. On both sides of the ocean - in the USA as well as in Russia - there are numerous voices denouncing the process of nuclear reductions as temporal and advocating preservation of abilities to reverse the tide quickly 'if national security interests would require'. In this respect an articie published in periodical "Vek" (Sep.1996) by Russian Minister of Atomic Energy Victor Mikhailov and two his colleagues from Arzamas-16 Federal Nuclear Center on the matters of NATO exspansion and Russian security needs is very characteristic. V. Mikhallov raises the project of a radical modernization of the Russian nuclear arsenal under the circumstances of decline of Russia's conventional defence capabilities:


"Militarily, Russia's security can only be guaranteed by nuclear deterrence policies. Giving up nuclear arms would leave Russia with no effective military potential... If the events take an unfavorable turn, Russia could rectore its arsenal of missiles which were scrapped under the 1987 medium and shorter-range elimination treaty, develop new generation battlefield nuclear arms with relatively low capacity and reduced side effects on the environment and population located outside the hostilities area..." Weapon designers and the Russian minister are quoting a figure of up to 10,000 high-safety nuclear warheads with a yield (TNT equivalent) ranging from dozens to hundred tonnes to be required under such a plan, designed for theater missile, front-line aviation, and anti-aircraft complexes. According to authors' estimates, to implement this programme, Russia would need about 300 tonnes of weapon-grade uranium and 30 tonnes of weapon grade plutonium. Authors 'optimistically' resume that these materials could be obtained from resources released in the nuclear arms dismantling process under START I and START II treaties.

Leaving aside technical aspects of such proposal, anybody could assume that stable continuation of nuclear disarmament remains at present far from irreversible both in respect of 'hardware' (removed but undestroyed warheads and fissile materials) and 'software' (status of people's minds). In the end of 90s the attitudes to nuclear disarmament in Russian political circies and in public opinion have shifted towards priorities of preservation of a strong nuclear potential in the weakened Russia. The emphasis is made onto preservation of the ABM treaty, keeping relative numerical parity with the USA on all stages of reductions, reintroduction of tactical nuclear weapons. Nuclear-weepon-free world is not anymore considered a political objective though it is still listed among long-term goals. Russia follows CTBT and NPT obligations and zigzags around START, but further progress towards nuclear disarmament seems very much dependent upon general recovery by Russian political elite and public from a syndrom of a weakened and 'defeated' nation.


Fissile Material Security and Nuclear Non-Proliferation

by Douglas Shaw


The Department of Energy has asked me to explain that the United States Government in no way confirms or endorses these remarks and that I alone am responsible for the views I am expressing here today and the accuracy of the statements I make.

There are four main points I’d like to make regarding fissile material security in Russia and the Newly IndependentStates. First, the possible theft or diversion of fissile material gravely threatens international security because it would constitute a considerable short-cut to proliferation or nuclear terrorism. Second, the security of fissile material in Russia and the Newly IndependentStates faces a variety of acute challenges. Third, efforts to improve fissile material security in Russia and the Newly IndependentStates have a significant impact and should be expanded. Finally, the problem of fissile material security should be viewed in the context of broader efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons globally.


  1. Insecure Fissile Material Threatens International Security

The possibility that a terrorist organization could detonate a nuclear explosive device lies at the nexus of two of the greatest threats to international security: nuclear proliferation and terrorism. This combination is considerably more dangerous than either threat alone. Throughout the nuclear age, we have depended on deterrence for security, but a terrorist organization may not be responsible for a defined geographic territory or a civilian population against which to level a deterrent threat. At the same time, a single, primitive nuclear explosive could give such an undeterrable group the power to cause hundreds of thousands of deaths. The civilized world has no higher security priority than preventing terrorists from acquiring nuclear weapons.

The biggest obstacle to building a nuclear weapon is the acquisition of the necessary weapons-useable nuclear material. The process of making plutonium or enriching uranium to purity levels required to create a nuclear device is extraordinarily expensive, technically difficult, time-consuming, and likely to be detected. But if a terrorist organization could steal or buy the necessary fissile material, they would not necessarily have to replicate the Manhattan Project to produce a nuclear explosive. Theft or purchase of weapons-useable nuclear material could constitute a major short-cut on the road to developing a nuclear weapon. Therefore, controlling access to weapons-useable fissile material is essential to the prevention of nuclear terrorism.

The proliferation threat is exacerbated by the fact that it is possible to manufacture a nuclear weapon with a surprisingly small amount of nuclear material. Hypothetically, a mass of four kilograms of plutonium is sufficient for one nuclear explosive device; even a small theft of the right kind of nuclear material could radically promote efforts by a terrorist organization or criminal conspiracy to build a bomb.

Many now question whether or not a black market actually exists for fissile material, given recent revelations regarding the role law enforcement agencies played in certain publicized cases of fissile material smuggling. This is not a compelling reason to believe that, in the future, criminal organizations will not attempt to purchase weapons-useable nuclear material, or in fact that such a purchase has not already occurred. The reality we face is that both supply of and demand for weapons-useable nuclear materials are now permanently in the realm of the possible; the actions we take can only make the supply and demand of weapons-useable fissile material more or less likely at the margin.


  1. Fissile Material Security Faces Challenges in Russia and the NIS

The dissolution of the former Soviet Union created new challenges for the protection of fissile material. The former Soviet Union produced more than 1,200 tons of highly enriched uranium and 150 tons of plutonium, theoretically enough to produce tens of thousands of nuclear weapons. Previously, the 80 to 100 facilities in the former Soviet Union where weapons-useable nuclear material is known to be stored could depend on political and financial stability. Now they are spread across new international boundaries; many are located near political flashpoints where armed conflict is common and their security can no longer be guaranteed. Some are uncomfortably close to the borders of states which either harbor nuclear weapons ambitions or sponsor terrorism, or both. Soviet-era population controls have evaporated and organized crime is widespread. Some facilities lack consistent operating funds. Taken together, these challenges constitute a radically changed environment in which fissile materials must be kept secure in Russia and the Newly IndependentStates.

I will briefly discuss some examples of the kinds of acute challenges currently faced in the areas of fissile material physical protection, material control, and material accounting, the areas of fissile material security with which I am most personally familiar. By discussing these topics, I hope to offer an impression of the depth and breadth of the fissile material security problem, not to delimit it.

Many of the conditions under which former Soviet physical protection systems for fissile materials were designed do not persist today. For instance, personnel are not as readily available to implement the labor-intensive approaches to security used in the past. In some cases, fewer guards have to be stretched further and further. Some facilities have faced difficulties in identifying reliable and cost-effective suppliers of security equipment. Shortages of funds have in some cases caused appropriate maintenance or equipment upgrades to be deferred. Decisions about fissile material security have, in some cases, been based more upon levels of available resources than on identified security needs.

It may not be necessary to overwhelm a security system if it can be circumvented. Perhaps even more dangerous than the threat that security systems protecting nuclear material will be defeated directly is the possibility of an undetected diversion of fissile material. The material control and material accounting systems which counter this threat face at least as many new challenges in Russia and the Newly IndependentStates as the physical protection systems do, but are generally less well understood.

Fissile material control refers to the procedures and systems that govern who, when, where, and how access is permitted to fissile material. Material control systems are designed largely to combat the "insider threat," whereby personnel authorized to have access to facilities where fissile materials are stored will act or collaborate to divert that material. In the area of fissile material control the situation in Russia and the NIS is fundamentally different than it was during the Soviet era. The evaporation of totalitarian population controls has meant greater freedom for millions, it has also erased one of the bedrock assumptions of Soviet society, a condition which underlay, among many other things, procedures for limiting access to fissile material. At the same time, people who are authorized to have access to fissile materials in Russia and the Newly IndependentStates in some cases are not being paid regularly. Although it should always be on the minds of those responsible for preventing the diversion of fissile material anywhere in the world, the "insider threat" is worthy of particular concern today in Russia and the Newly IndependentStates. The Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy (Minatom) alone employs approximately one million people, many of whom have personally faced economic hardship during the last few years.

A major challenge to accurate fissile material accounting in Russia and the Newly IndependentStates is that many facilities responsible for the custody of weapons-useable nuclear material have no on-site capacity to assay the isotopic composition of materials they receive into their inventories, relying rather on data supplied by the manufacturer or, less satisfactorily, derivative values calculated by the last facility which held the material, which also may not have had any measurement equipment. Within this system, each material transaction builds uncertainty into the process about the true quantity of fissile material in the inventory. The cumulative effect of an incalculably large number of such transactions over a period of several decades is that there are going to be significant discrepancies between the estimated and the actual values in the inventories of some of the facilities where fissile materials are stored.

In short, Russia and the Newly IndependentStates face significant challenges in the areas of fissile material protection, control, and accounting.


  1. Fissile Material Security in Russia and the NIS Should Be Strengthened

Facility directors in Russia and the Newly Independent States are aware of the vulnerability of the fissile material in their care to theft or diversion, but in many cases they do not have the resources to deal effectively with all of these challenges. The international community has offered considerable assistance, but the challenges our Russian colleagues face cannot be easily overcome. The assistance packages being offered today could be increased ten-fold without addressing every legitimate security concern our colleagues from nuclear facilities in Russia and the Newly IndependentStates can identify. Hard decisions and trade-offs must constantly be made at any level of commitment; no system can be prepared to defeat every conceivable threat. But it is crucial to remember the stakes, a single act of nuclear terrorism would make all past, present, and planned spending on securing nuclear material seem unforgivably paltry.

By way of example, I would like to describe the way the US Department of Energy’s Nuclear Material, Protection, Control, and Accounting Program has already made a significant difference. First, by sensitizing key players in Russia and the Newly IndependentStates to the problem, not just at the national level but also at the facility level. DOE’s program involves facility personnel in the desicionmaking process, building a sense of ownership of the tools and ideas, and building a safeguards culture. Secondly, DOE provides the facilities with the means to meet their most urgent security needs.

New approaches which apply state-of-the-art security technology to the development of overlapping systems of physical protection, material control, and material accounting are the mainstay of the Department of Energy’s program. Impressive progress has been made in upgrading the physical protection of nuclear material at numerous sites but every physical protection system relies on assumptions about the scope of the threats that it will face which may or may not be valid and hard choices must be made based on the availability of resources.

In the area of nuclear material control and accounting, many responsible custodians of nuclear material in the former Soviet Union expressed initial disbelief when their American counterparts suggested that someone might want to steal fissile material and indignation at the idea that someone inside their facility might pose a threat. Overcoming that misunderstanding was a major achievement of the MPC&A program, which allowed the employment of technology based material control systems take the guesswork out of over who has access to what material when. They can increase the likelihood and speed of detection of a fissile material diversion, but they will not prevent one.

In the area of material accountability, the United States and other countries are working to install material assay capabilities in facilities in Russia and the Newly IndependentStates now, which is a crucial step, but is also, in a way, like closing the barn door after the horse has left. Even if every known sample were accurately measured tomorrow, it is impossible to know what is missing with anything approaching 100% accuracy, and 99% accuracy might mean as much as 12 tons of highly enriched uranium and 1.5 tons of plutonium are unaccountable. We can increase our level of confidence in the current fissile material inventories across Russia and the NIS, but it will require commitment and will not yield perfection.


  1. Fissile Material Security Must Be Viewed in the Context of Broader Nonproliferation Efforts

Effective physical protection and material control and accounting systems are an essential element of defense against nuclear terrorism. Many capable people are struggling to keep their fingers in this proverbial dike which prevents a widespread black market in weapons-useable nuclear material from developing. But the bottom line is that this is a delaying tactic. Our efforts to protect nuclear material may be more or less successful at preventing nuclear proliferation or terrorism in the near term, but they will not necessarily stop a potential proliferant state, terrorist organization, or criminal conspiracy determined to acquire a nuclear weapon from achieving that aim over time. From now on we must be prepared to respond to the possibility that weapons-useable nuclear material is for sale. Programs like the US Department of Energy’s Nuclear Material Protection, Control, and Accounting Program are our best available means to reduce the possible supply of weapons-useable fissile material to proliferant states or terrorists. But a lasting solution must involve reducing the quantities of weapons-useable fissile material stored anywhere and delegitimzing nuclear weapons as instruments of policy and weapons of war. If the international community can, through responsible action toward the elimination of nuclear weapons, minimize the number of states and organizations incorrigibly committed to the acquisition of nuclear weapons while simultaneously making such weapons and their constituent materials more difficult to obtain, we may be able to deal with the residual threat through technical fixes and law enforcement. But a world in which huge stockpiles of nuclear weapons and weapons-useable nuclear materials are hoarded by legitimate governments as symbols of power and wealth is an invitation to nuclear terrorism.

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