As Final Head-of-State Nuclear Security Summit Approaches, Nunn and NTI Warn of Slowing Progress on Preventing Nuclear Terrorism

2016 NTI Nuclear Security Index finds countries unprepared for cyber attacks on nuclear facilities; introduces new “sabotage ranking” 

WASHINGTON, DC—At a time of escalating threats and as world leaders prepare to gather for the final Nuclear Security Summit, the third edition of the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) Nuclear Security Index finds that progress on reducing the threat of catastrophic nuclear terrorism has slowed and major gaps remain in the global nuclear security system. The 2016 NTI Index, which has become a critical resource and tool for assessing the security of the world’s deadliest materials, also finds troubling shortfalls in areas assessed for the first time: how well countries are protecting nuclear facilities against sabotage, as well as the emerging threat of cyber attacks.

"The purpose of the NTI Index is not to award gold medals or scold those who do not score well. Our purpose is to show how all countries can improve the security of dangerous nuclear materials," said NTI Co-Chairman and former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn. "Significant progress deserving of two cheers and applause has been made, but the world has miles to go before we sleep."

The NTI Index, developed biennially with the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), finds that, since 2014, no improvements have been made in several key areas related to securing highly enriched uranium and plutonium that are measured by the NTI Index: on-site physical protection, control and accounting, insider threat prevention, physical security during transport, and response capabilities. The number of countries taking the most important step to prevent theft—eliminating their materials—also has dropped. In the two-year period preceding the release of the 2014 NTI Index, seven countries eliminated their weapons-usable nuclear materials; the 2016 edition finds one country—Uzbekistan—moving from the list of countries with weapons-usable nuclear materials to the list of those without those materials.

Responding to the changing threat environment, for the first time the 2016 NTI Index assesses the potential risks to nuclear facilities posed by cyber attack and sabotage.

The results are striking:

  • Nearly half the countries assessed do not have a single requirement in place to protect their nuclear facilities from cyber attacks, and only nine of the 24 countries with weapons-usable nuclear materials received the maximum score on cybersecurity.
  • A new "sabotage ranking" of 45 countries with certain types of nuclear facilities shows that many countries considering nuclear power are struggling to put in place the basic measures necessary to prevent an act of sabotage that could result in a radiological release similar in scale to the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan.

World leaders are scheduled to meet in Washington for the fourth and final Nuclear Security Summit March 31-April 1. The upcoming meeting caps off a series of summits in Washington (2010), Seoul (2012), and The Hague (2014) that have drawn attention to the threat and committed countries to stronger measures to prevent nuclear terrorism.

“President Obama launched the summit process, and he and his team, as well as a host of committed world leaders, deserve credit for their achievements so far,” Nunn said. “The work is not complete, however, and a plan to sustain high-level political attention on nuclear security must be a top priority at the Summit.”
Country Highlights

In the “theft ranking”:

  • As in 2012 and 2014, Australia takes the top spot among the 24 states with weapons-usable nuclear materials.
  • Japan is the most improved state.
  • France, the United States, and the United Kingdom score the highest among nuclear-armed states.
  • The United StatesIndiaRussia, and the United Kingdom are the most improved nuclear-armed states.
  • Sweden earns the first place ranking among states with less than one kilogram of or no weapons-usable nuclear materials. Djibouti is the most improved of those states.

In the new “sabotage ranking”:

  • Finland ranks first among the 45 states that have nuclear facilities, such as power plants or research reactors, in need of protection against sabotage. 
  • Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Japan round out the top five. 
  • Full data, country profiles, and a new score simulator are available at www.ntiindex.org.

Recommendations

The NTI Index offers recommendations for individual countries and for the international community as a whole to improve security and to keep attention focused on the threat of nuclear terrorism after the Nuclear Security Summit process ends in 2016. The NTI Index recommends that states and the international community should, among other priorities:

  • Build an effective global nuclear security system that covers all weapons-usable materials, including the 83 percent of those materials categorized as "military materials.” In such a system, all states would adhere to international standards and best practices, take reassuring actions to build confidence in the effectiveness of their security, and reduce risks through minimizing or eliminating stocks of weapons-usable nuclear materials, where possible.
  • Strengthen cybersecurity at nuclear facilities to ensure that nuclear facilities are protected from cyber attacks.
  • Ensure that effective nuclear security regimes are in place before building nuclear energy programs to ensure the safe and secure operation of new nuclear facilities.
  • Agree on a post-Nuclear Security Summit path to sustain progress and high-level political attention on nuclear security. \

International Participation
NTI and the EIU drew on the expertise of technical advisors and an International Panel of Experts from nuclear and non-nuclear weapons states and from developed and developing nations. Governments from the 47 countries included in the theft ranking for countries with materials, the sabotage ranking, or both were offered briefings (with 36 conducted), and 25 of the 47 reviewed data as part of the process.

About the Nuclear Threat Initiative
The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) is a non-profit, non-partisan organization working to protect our lives, livelihoods, environment and quality of life now and for future generations from the growing risk of catastrophic attacks from weapons of mass destruction and disruption (WMDD)—nuclear, biological, radiological, chemical and cyber. Founded in 2001 by Sam Nunn and philanthropist Ted Turner, NTI is guided by a prestigious, international board of directors. Joan Rohlfing serves as president.

January 14, 2016
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At a time of escalating threats, the 2016 NTI Nuclear Security Index finds that progress on reducing the threat of catastrophic nuclear terrorism has slowed and major gaps remain in the global nuclear security system.

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Alexandra Van Dine
Alexandra Van Dine

Program Associate, Scientific and Technical Affairs