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Remarks by Sam Nunn at the Launch of the 2014 NTI Nuclear Materials Security Index

Sam Nunn

Co-Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, NTI

Thank you for joining us as we release the 2014 edition of the Nuclear Threat Initiative’s Nuclear Materials Security Index.  This Index represents a country-by-country assessment of the security conditions of weapons-usable nuclear materials around the world.

I view the Index as a framework—grounded in solid data which should help inform our priorities globally in terms of securing nuclear material and preventing catastrophic terrorism.

This is the second edition of the NTI Index. We hope this 2014 Index will promote global discussion, debate and actions by leaders as they prepare for the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit in the Netherlands in March which will focus on security of the world’s most deadly material.

Both NTI’s 2012 Index and the one we release today were developed with the Economist Intelligence Unit and guided by a highly respected International Panel of Experts.  The Index is an in-depth assessment of nuclear materials security in 176 countries—those with weapons-usable nuclear materials and those that have important security responsibilities even though they do not have weapons-usable material.

With this 2014 Index, we can gauge progress and begin to identify trends.  You’ll hear the results and more about our findings and recommendations from my NTI and EIU colleagues. 

The stakes are very high.  IAEA Director General Amano recently said:

 “Over a hundred incidents of thefts and other unauthorized activities involving nuclear and radioactive materials are reported to the IAEA every year. … Some material goes missing and is never found.”

Even more alarming, his predecessor Mohamed ElBaradei said: “A large percentage of materials which are recovered have not been previously reported as missing.”

That’s right: In some cases, nuclear material goes missing and is never found; and in some cases, no one even knows that the material has gone missing.

There is much we don’t know, but we do know important things that make our global challenge clear and urgent:  

  • We know that terrorists are seeking nuclear materials.
  • We know that information about building a bomb is widely available.
  • We understand the consequences of a detonation: Hundreds of thousands of dead and injured, disruptions to global commerce and confidence, long-term environmental and public health consequences and, in all likelihood, reduced civil liberties worldwide.
  • We know that if one weapon goes off, the world will remain off-balance for a long time, fearing a second and a third and enduring many threats and false alarms.
  • We know that the most difficult part of making that nightmare a reality for a terrorist organization is getting its hands on weapons-usable nuclear material – this is their hardest task. Our priority must be to make that terrorist challenge as close to impossible as we can. 
  • We know there is nearly 2,000 metric tons of this material spread across hundreds of sites in 25 countries, and we know much of it is not effectively secured.
  • We know that terrorists would only need enough highly enriched uranium to fit into a 5-pound bag of sugar or an amount of plutonium the size of a grapefruit.

We created the NTI Index to respond to this sobering set of facts. The threat of nuclear terrorism is real. The need to work urgently—and in a smart way—is real.  This is a critical global challenge that requires all countries to work together.  We are in a race between cooperation and catastrophe.

What We Found

On the good news side, this Index makes it clear there are steps that can be taken to prevent a catastrophic nuclear event, including nuclear terrorism.

Let me highlight some of our findings and important progress that has been made since 2012.

Since the beginning of 2012, seven countries removed all or most of their weapons-usable nuclear materials. This clean-out of materials is one of the most important steps a country can take to secure its own people and contribute to global security. It builds on progress made over more than two decades. Today, 25 countries possess weapons-usable nuclear materials—that’s half the number of states that had them in 1992.  This is an important leap forward in the security of the planet.

So we congratulate these countries for their initiative and their leadership in improving their own and global security. There are other positive trends: 

  • In addition to the seven countries that cleaned out, 13 others reduced their quantities of material.
  • Finally, the Nuclear Security Summits have put an important spotlight and timeline on this urgent issue, and a number of countries improved in the Index as a result of fulfilling their Summit commitments. 

However, I want to make it clear that dangerous problems and challenges remain.

The NTI Index underscores that we must develop an effective and accountable global system for how nuclear materials should be secured.  This job is far from achieved and must be on the global front burner. 

The lack of an effective global system in securing the world’s most dangerous materials stands in stark contrast to other recognized, high-risk global enterprises.

For example, in aviation, countries set standards for airline safety and security through the International Civil Aviation Organization, which then audits state implementation of the standards and shares security concerns with member states.   If your practices don’t meet these standards, your plane isn’t going to be allowed to land in the United States, the E.U., China, Russia, Japan, India, Brazil, or most other places around the world.

Obviously, in an age of terrorism, the airline industry depends on this safety and security system for its economic viability, and countries depend on it to protect their citizens.

Yet when it comes to weapons-usable nuclear materials, where poor security can have global consequences, we lack key elements of an effective system.

So –

  1. We must develop common international standards and practices for security
  1. We must adopt mechanisms for states to provide assurances about their security, and
  1. We must find ways to hold states accountable.
  1. We must give the IAEA the authority, the mandate and the funding which is essential.

Need for change

The third Nuclear Security Summit, this March in The Netherlands, provides the opportunity for leaders to work together to reduce nuclear risks. We hope that this Index can serve as a useful guide for that process.

The Index should be looked on as a tool for improvement, not a perfect scorecard.

We hope it will continue to be used as a guide for countries seeking to increase security in their own territories and also help spur global action and accountability. 

I want to thank the International Panel of Experts for their important contribution.  I’d also like to thank NTI’s generous funders, including Warren Buffett, George Russell, NTI Co-Chairman Ted Turner, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Peter G. Peterson Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

I’d now like to introduce some colleagues who will follow me to the podium:

  • Leo Abruzzese from the EIU will give you more background on how the Index was constructed
  • Page Stoutland, vice president of NTI’s Nuclear Materials Security Program, will then give you more information about our approach
  • NTI President Joan Rohlfing will offer more detail on our recommendations.

We are grateful for your interest, and we look forward to your questions.

About

NTI Co-Chairman Sam Nunn highlights the threat of nuclear terrorism at the 2014 NTI Index launch at the National Press Club.

Understanding
the Nuclear Threat

Reducing the risk of nuclear use by terrorists and nation-states requires a broad set of complementary strategies targeted at reducing state reliance on nuclear weapons, stemming the demand for nuclear weapons and denying organizations or states access to the essential nuclear materials, technologies and know-how.

In Depth