Atomic Pulse

NTI at 20: Building a Safer World for Two Decades

NTI is 20!

On this date in 2001, media mogul and philanthropist Ted Turner, former Senator Sam Nunn, and former Deputy Secretary of Energy Charles B. Curtis took the stage at the National Press Club to announce the creation of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a unique, independent, non-profit and non-partisan organization that would work with governments and partners around the world to reduce the threats posed by nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.

It was an ambitious undertaking, preceded by a six-month “scoping study” to determine whether a private organization could make a meaningful difference on threat reduction in areas that primarily are the purview of governments. Turner, who provided the funding to jump-start NTI and remains a co-chair of the organization along with Nunn and current CEO Ernest J. Moniz, said NTI would pursue “pragmatic and effective steps” to reduce nuclear threats.

Nunn, who served as NTI’s CEO from 2001 through 2017, told reporters that “the emphasis of this initiative will be on action—making real and significant progress on the most urgent threats.” In other words, NTI would not be another Washington think tank.

“We intend to be a catalyst and encourage change—in reducing the pressure on the nuclear trigger and increasing warning time for leadership decision making; in stemming proliferation; in enhancing the safety, security and accountability of weapons and materials; and in reducing the chances of intentional or accidental use of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction,” Nunn said.

At the time, it had been less than a decade since the break-up of the Soviet Union. There were more than 30,000 nuclear weapons in the world, dozens of countries held nuclear materials, the horror of the 9/11 attacks was still months away, and a modern-day pandemic that would sweep the globe and kill millions of people was unthinkable. Today, the number of nuclear weapons around the world has been cut by more than half, leaders have worked to secure vulnerable nuclear materials to keep them out of the hands of terrorist organizations, and citizens around the globe have received a terrible wake-up call about the potency of biological threats.

At NTI, we are enormously proud to have played a role in some of the important threat-reduction success stories of the past two decades and to have helped lay the foundation for future progress on some of the world’s most persistent, evolving threats. We are ever mindful that there is still a great deal of work to be done.

Founded with an international Board of Directors and staffed with some of the top experts in the world—including our first president, Charlie Curtis, and our current president, Joan Rohlfing—NTI has grown from a handful of employees to more than 60 today. Along the way, we opened (and then closed) an office in Moscow, we made two movies and started a daily newswire on global security, and we cultivated a new generation of leaders in the field. We’ve tackled projects with terrific partners across Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, Africa, and beyond, and we’re enormously grateful to our supporters who continue to make it all possible.

Over the course of this, our 20th anniversary year, we’ll talk to the people who were there when NTI opened its doors, to those who conceived and implemented some of our biggest impact projects, and to those who are tackling emerging threats. You’ll learn more about the international low-enriched uranium bank we helped bring to life in Kazakhstan, the disarmament verification project we’re working on with 25 countries and the U.S. Department of State, the NTI Nuclear Security Index, our Biosecurity Innovation and Risk Reduction Initiative, and much more.

NTI’s experts will share some of the lessons learned along the way—and maybe one or two surprising stories!—as well as their ideas and vision for how we can work together now and in the future to build a safer world.

Stay tuned for “NTI at 20” on Atomic Pulse—and thanks for joining us!

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