Nuclear material sites 'dangerously insecure'

21 November 2008

A recent report, Securing the Bomb 2008, commissioned by the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) claims that some stockpiles of potential nuclear-weapons material are “dangerously insecure.”

The report by Matthew Bunn of Harvard University said the highest risks of nuclear theft are in Russia, Pakistan, and at highly enriched uranium (HEU) fuelled research reactors around the world.

The progress and work that needs to be done on improving security for nuclear warheads and materials; consolidating and moving nuclear stockpiles to more secure locations; and implementing international and domestic policy frameworks for effective and lasting nuclear security is outlined.

Co-chairman of the NTI, Sam Nunn, said that in order to meet the nuclear threat “we must build a real nuclear security partnership with Russia and work with all nations to secure stockpiles around the world.”

According to the report, security upgrades have been completed in roughly 75% of the buildings that store nuclear material in the former Soviet Union and roughly 65% of nuclear warhead sites. Russia has however largely refused to convert its HEU-fuelled research reactors to low enriched uranium, or shut them down. China does not appear to have made any major improvements in its nuclear security and so far India and South Africa have rejected offers of nuclear security cooperation.

Bunn also suggested that a White House official, with direct access to the president, should be appointed to take full-time charge of all efforts focused on preventing nuclear terrorism.

This week, the Institute for 21st Century Energy (part of the US Chamber of Commerce) also published its Transition Plan for Securing America's Energy Future.

It said a programme to recycle US spent fuel should be established and a corporation to manage waste disposal should be appointed within a year.

The plan also recommended that the current statutory cap of 70,000t of spent fuel for Yucca Mountain should be eliminated and that a radiation health standard should be established for the repository "for a time period that can reasonably be demonstrated through scientific evidence."

In addition it suggested that DoE loan guarantees should be increased to “commensurate with the capital cost” of new build projects.

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