#ICNS16 Update: It’s a Wrap!

This was certainly a full week at the 2016 IAEA International Conference on Nuclear Security: Commitments and Actions (ICNS). With more than 2,000 participants from over 130 countries and 17 organizations, there was no shortage of interesting discussion in the meeting sessions, side events, and over coffee.

 NTI at #ICNS16 by the Numbers: NTI was out in full force at the ICNS, with nine members of its delegation. Here’s what our team was up to:

  • 3 presentations: radiological security, cybersecurity, and the CPP review conference
  • Participation at 3 side events: the Fissile Materials Working Group (FMWG) lunch briefing; a panel on information sharing and the Consolidated National Nuclear Security Report sponsored by NTI, VERTIC, and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and a panel at a showing of the movie Last Best Chance
  • 1 NTI report launch on cybersecurity at nuclear facilities
  • 1 exhibit booth
  • 400 NTI mints and 375 NTI hand sanitizers distributed 
  • Multiple media interviews
  • More than 75 NTI Tweets 

Samantha Pitts-Kiefer at IAEA ICAN16

Roundup on Ministerial Declaration: The ministerial declaration should give us reason to worry about sustaining an ambitious nuclear security agenda within this forum when compared to the Nuclear Security Summits (NSS). Not only were the negotiations almost scrapped due to discontent, the slim declaration (and slim it was—16 paragraphs compared to 24 paragraphs in the 2013 IAEA ICNS ministerial declaration) was silent on some key issues that were prominent in the NSS process and walked back progress on others. 

  • No escaping disarmament. That disarmament made an appearance right up front (para. 2) on a nuclear security document shows how difficult it is to focus on nuclear security within the IAEA context without getting distracted. A forum where states can focus on nuclear security is sorely needed—the CPP 2021 review conference can serve that purpose.
  • Self-obsession rules. The declaration reflects an obsession with saying that nuclear security is “entirely” the responsibility of the state (para. 5)—this language also appears in the 2015 and 2016 General Conference nuclear security resolutions. This phraseology is code for “don’t ask me about my security because it’s none of your business,” a dangerous attitude given that a nuclear security incident in one state could affect others. The NSS eventually evolved to a more progressive term, calling nuclear security the “fundamental” responsibility of states, but also recognized the importance of confidence building and information sharing (para. 20), and correctly acknowledged that operators of nuclear facilities actually have “primary responsibility” for securing material and therefore “have an important role to play” (para. 27). Interestingly, dialogue with industry was mentioned in the 2016 GC nuclear security resolution (para. 20) and the contributions of industry were mentioned in the 2013 ICNS ministerial declaration (para. 7 and 19). Neither operators nor industry are mentioned in the 2016 declaration.
  • Plutonium stockpiles ignored. The declaration recognizes the need to secure both highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium, but only encourages the minimization of HEU, “where technically and economically feasible” (para. 12). The 2014 NSS communiqué, in contrast encourages states to both minimize HEU and “keep their stockpile of separated plutonium to the minimum level, both as consistent with national requirements” (para. 21)
  • What confidence building? Unlike the 2014 NSS communiqué (para. 20), there is no reference in the declaration to confidence building, international assurances, transparency, or information sharing and reporting.
  • Military materials frozen out. Walking back from even the 2013 ICNS declaration, which mentions the need to secure all nuclear material, including “military used for military purposes” (para. 4), this year’s declaration reverted back to the more benign formulation of HEU and separated plutonium “in all their applications” (para. 12), which has been used in GC nuclear security resolutions.

NTI senior consultant Ioanna M. Iliopulos (third from right) presenting at the IAEA #ICNS16

That’s not to say the declaration didn’t contain anything useful. 

  • “We commit”! For the first time within the IAEA context, ministers used the word “commit”—committing to secure radioactive sources and to combat illicit trafficking of nuclear and other radioactive materials (paras. 13 and 14). Moreover, the commitment with regard to radiological security was to “maintain effective security . . . consistent with the Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources.” 
  • IAEA’s core activities get a boost. The declaration also showed clear support for the IAEA’s assistance services. Past statements have encouraged the use of these services, but this year’s declaration described guidance development, advisory services, and capacity building as “core activities.” The person who pushed for this language (and who pointed it out to me) was celebrating this as a win.
  • States worry about cyber. Compared to 2013, this year’s declaration shows much stronger support for the IAEA’s efforts to strengthen computer security and recognizes the possibility of cyber threats to nuclear facilities (para. 9), although the 2016 GC resolution had a slightly stronger statement on this.
  • "Let’s do this again!” Calling for IAEA nuclear security conferences every three years, and encouraging states to participate at the ministerial level (para. 16), is important for sustainability, but future conferences will need to strive for a much higher level of ambition if they are going to lead to real progress in sustaining attention and progress on nuclear security. 

December 9, 2016
Samantha Pitts-Kiefer
Samantha Pitts-Kiefer

Senior Director, Materials Risk Management

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