Action for the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit: Regional HEU-Free Zones

Terrorists are seeking weapons-usable nuclear materials, making highly enriched uranium (HEU) one of the most dangerous materials on the planet. Significant progress has been made by the international community to minimize the use of highly enriched uranium (HEU) in the civil sector, including the elimination of HEU from 26 countries plus Taiwan.

Despite progress, more urgent action is needed. "As the final Nuclear Security Summit approaches in 2016, there is a need for a more comprehensive strategy to eliminate HEU from the civilian sector," warn Andrew Bieniawski, Miles Pomper and Elena Sokova in a new paper from NTI, the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies and the Fissile Materials Working Group.

The authors of The Case for Highly Enriched Uranium-Free Zones call for the creation of regional HEU-Free Zones, analogous to Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones, where countries within the zone may not possess or allow for the transfer of HEU within their territory. HEU-Free Zones would provide a means of sustaining momentum and would help cement a global norm against civilian HEU use.

The authors propose five regional HEU-Free Zones in Latin America, Southeast Asia, Africa, Eastern and Central Europe and the Middle East. The paper includes suggestions for countries that could take the lead in establishing the zones and provides analysis on which countries still have HEU—and the prospects for each country to eliminate it. 

"Regions such as Latin America and Southeast Asia, which have essentially been cleared of such materials, could pledge to establish such zones as 'gift baskets' to the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit," write Bieniawski, Pomper and Sokova.

With the final summit approaching, the establishment of HEU-Free Zones could make a significant and lasting contribution to global HEU elimination efforts—and to global nuclear materials security.

Read the paper.

To speak to an expert, contact Carmen MacDougall at macdougall@nti.org.