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Analysis of Global Nuclear Materials Security Expected Next Month

By Elaine M. Grossman

Global Security Newswire

President Obama speaks at the first Global Nuclear Security Summit, held in April 2010 in Washington. Two organizations are teaming up to prepare an analysis of nuclear materials security ahead of a second summit planned for March in Seoul, South Korea (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak). President Obama speaks at the first Global Nuclear Security Summit, held in April 2010 in Washington. Two organizations are teaming up to prepare an analysis of nuclear materials security ahead of a second summit planned for March in Seoul, South Korea (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak).

WASHINGTON -- A leading news group's analytical branch is teaming with a nongovernmental threat-reduction organization to assess the security of nuclear materials around the world in the lead-up to a global summit in South Korea next March (see GSN, Nov. 29).

"Governments have not been able -- because of a lot of different impediments including political reasons -- to come up with any kind of measurement or common way of determining how secure nuclear materials are," said Sam Nunn, whose 24-year career in the U.S. Senate included a stint as chairman of the chamber's Armed Services Committee.

Such an appraisal would be helpful, though, in understanding where global efforts should be focused and in establishing "best practices and standards," the retired Georgia Democrat said at a Washington event on Monday.

The Nuclear Threat Initiative, which Nunn co-chairs, is now undertaking an analysis with the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit that will rate how well 32 nations are safeguarding their weapon-usable nuclear material, Nunn said at a luncheon marking the 20-year anniversary of Cooperative Threat Reduction legislation that he co-sponsored.

He did not name specific countries but called attention to the risk that such materials might fall into the hands of militant extremists or terrorists.

The Economist research organization was founded in 1946 to support the magazine of the same name, and now provides intelligence and counsel to businesses, financial institutions, academia and governments. The Nuclear Threat Initiative is a nongovernmental organization that seeks to reduce the risks of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

The upcoming evaluation, called the "NTI Nuclear Materials Security Index," is to be made public on Jan. 11, according to Cathy Gwin, an NTI spokeswoman.

The project has been under way for roughly a year at a cost of about $1 million. Underwritten mostly by the Nuclear Threat Initiative, the security index effort has also received financial support from the MacArthur Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, she said.

Once complete, the data bank should "spark an international discussion about priorities required to strengthen security and, most importantly, encourage governments to provide assurances and take actions to reduce risks," according to an NTI project description.

Dividing labor on the project, the Economist Intelligence Unit's role has been to develop a computer model and gather data, while the Nuclear Threat Initiative has worked with issue experts and technical consultants to determine effectiveness in securing nuclear materials, the NTI information paper said.

The 32 countries will be assessed based on a handful of factors, including nuclear material quantities, sites and control measures. Another 144 nations with very little to no material will be evaluated on a more limited basis, to include domestic security commitments and related societal issues, according to the group.

"We're not trying to put some people at the bottom of the list and some at the top, although that will happen because of the scoring system," Nunn said at the event, sitting on the dais with longtime collaborator Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The event was sponsored by the National Journal.

Since being established in 1991 by the Nunn-Lugar bill to secure and eliminate weapons of mass destruction in former Soviet states, the U.S. Cooperative Threat Reduction effort has helped deactivate 7,601 strategic nuclear warheads and destroy 792 ICBMs, 498 ICBM silos, 182 mobile ICBM launchers, 674 submari,ne-launched ballistic missiles, 492 SLBM launchers, 33 ballistic missile-capable submarines, 155 strategic bombers, 906 nuclear air-to-surface missiles, and a host of other equipment and materials that posed potential proliferation risks.

Noting that it took a nongovernmental collaboration to launch the materials-indexing project, Nunn said, "There are a lot of things you can do outside government that government can't do." The hope, he said, is that after the measurement is released, "government will start debating this at the South Korean summit."

The Seoul gathering is to follow the first such meeting of world leaders, held in Washington in April 2010, aimed at generating global action to help reduce the threat of nuclear terrorism. The Washington summit included leaders from 47 nations and three international organizations; participants backed the goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear materials in four years (see GSN, April 14, 2010).

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Sam Nunn is co-chairman and chief executive officer of the Nuclear Threat Initiative. NTI is the sole sponsor of Global Security Newswire, which is published independently by the National Journal Group.]

Note to our Readers

GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

NTI Analysis