While governments recognize the urgency of better securing weapons-grade nuclear materials against theft, there is neither global consensus about security practices nor a system to hold countries accountable, increase transparency, and benchmark progress, a new Nuclear Materials Security Index released by the Washington, D.C.-based Nuclear Threat Initiative argues.
The study, NTI Nuclear Materials Security Index: Building a Framework for Assurance, Accountability and Action (128 pages, PDF), examined indicators of security practices and conditions for nuclear materials in a hundred and seventy-six countries, including those that possess no weapons-grade materials but could be used as safe havens, staging grounds, or transit points for illicit nuclear activities. Developed in partnership with the Economist Intelligence Unit, the index found that nearly a quarter of states with weapons-grade materials had very high levels of corruption, and several also faced the prospect of political instability — a combination that significantly raises the risk of nuclear theft.
Funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Peter G. Peterson and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur foundations, the report recommends, among other things, that the international community benchmark progress and hold states accountable; build transparency through access to regulations, inventories, and peer reviews; and improve state stewardship by strengthening security and control measures and targeting assistance more effectively to states with urgent needs.
"There is evidence today that the elements of a perfect storm are in place: an ample supply of weapons-usable nuclear materials — some of it poorly secured — and the determination of terrorist organizations that have publicly stated their desire to acquire and use nuclear weapons," said NTI co-chair and former U.S. senator Sam Nunn. "We know that to get the materials they need, terrorists will go where the material is most vulnerable. Global nuclear security is only as strong as the weakest link in the chain."