Non-Paper 3: Comprehensiveness - Understanding Non-Civilian Nuclear Materials

This is an excerpt from the third of four Non-Papers from the Global Dialogue on Nuclear Security Priorities, titled "Comprehensiveness - Understanding Non-Civilian Nuclear Materials." Through the Global Dialogue, government officials, international experts and nuclear security practitioners are engaging in a collaborative process to build consensus about the need for a strengthened global nuclear security system, how it would look and what actions would be needed at the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit and beyond.

KEY POINTS

  • Non-civilian materials are estimated to comprise 85% of global weapons-usable nuclear materials.
  • As a category, non-civilian materials, is quite diverse and comprises material in different forms, in different facilities, and in different uses.
  • The 2010 and 2012 Nuclear Security Summits reaffirmed the, “fundamental responsibility of states to maintain effective security of all nuclear materials, including nuclear materials used in nuclear weapons” yet today, the vast majority of weapons-usable material is not subject to international standards, guidelines, best practices, or any mechanisms for international assurance.
  • Existing and past nuclear security cooperation experience with sensitive nuclear materials and at sensitive nuclear facilities suggests that nuclear-armed states should start to explore mechanisms to provide confidence about the security of non-civilian nuclear materials.

In the communiqués for the 2010 and 2012 Nuclear Security Summits, states reaffirmed the, “fundamental responsibility of states to maintain effective security of all nuclear materials, including nuclear materials used in nuclear weapons.” States, therefore, recognized the importance of strengthening security around all weapons-usable nuclear material; in other words, they agreed that an effective nuclear security system should be comprehensive and apply to both civilian and non-civilian materials. Yet today, the vast majority of weapons-usable material is not subject to international standards, guidelines, best practices, or any mechanisms for international assurance.

To make real the communiqué commitment to secure “all materials,” participants in the Global Dialogue process encouraged states to begin exploring how materials or facilities outside of civilian programs could be brought under international security standards and best practices. Could states devise ways to assure each other that their non-civilian materials are secured consistent with international guidelines and best practices? How can sensitive security information be protected under this scenario? Are there any instructive examples of information sharing or cooperative work among states on non-civilian materials?

This paper provides some clarity about what is meant by materials outside of civilian programs and challenges assumptions about the level of security applied to these materials. It also considers whether voluntary confidence-building measures, not intrusive verification measures, can be applied without compromising sensitive information.

November 19, 2012
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This is the third in a series of four non-papers from the Global Dialogue on Nuclear Security Priorities, where leading government officials, international experts and nuclear security practitioners are engaging in a collaborative process to build consensus about the need for a strengthened global nuclear security system, how it would look and what actions would be needed at the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit and beyond.