Report - U.S. Department of Energy

Secretary of Energy Advisory Board: Report of the Task Force on Nuclear Nonproliferation

[The Belfer Center authors noted here are members of the SEAB Task Force that produced this report.]


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY


The Secretary of Energy on December 20, 2013 established the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) Task Force on Nuclear Nonproliferation (TFNN) and charged it to “advise the DOE on future areas of emphasis for its nuclear nonproliferation activities by addressing the following questions:

1. What are the current and likely future challenges to nuclear nonproliferation?

2. What should DOE be doing to help the United States Government prepare to meet those challenges?

3. What are DOE’s current areas of emphasis in nuclear nonproliferation?

4. In what ways should DOE’s nuclear nonproliferation efforts be modified and/or expanded?

5. What obstacles stand in the way of making the recommended changes in DOE’s nuclear nonproliferation activities, and how might they be overcome?”

In an Interim Report issued in July 2014, the Task Force addressed several timely and important issues that, in its view, merited prompt attention. DOE has made significant progress toward implementation of key recommendations in the Interim Report, including: preparation and issuance by NNSA of its first report to Congress on its current and planned efforts to address the threats of nuclear proliferation and terrorism; development of risk-informed priorities for nuclear nonproliferation; establishment of the DOE Nuclear Policy Council to serve as a mechanism for Department-wide consideration of cross-cutting nuclear issues; reorganizing the office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation along the lines of “enduring missions”; and establishment of a Council of DOE Headquarters, Labs, Plants and Sites to coordinate nuclear nonproliferation strategy and planning, including (but not limited to) R&D.

This Final Report explicitly addresses the five questions posed in the charge to the Task Force.

1. What are the current and likely future challenges to nuclear nonproliferation?

Current and likely future challenges to nuclear nonproliferation occur in four interrelated categories: preventing additional countries from acquiring nuclear weapons; preventing non-state actors from acquiring nuclear and radiological weapons; reducing the risks posed by existing nuclear arsenals; and maintaining and strengthening the international nonproliferation and nuclear security regime.

The states currently or potentially most interested in acquiring nuclear weapons appear to be concentrated in the Middle East, but this has not always been so in the past and may not persist into the future. Non-state actors seeking nuclear weapons are far less able than states to produce the required nuclear materials, so they attempt to buy or steal those materials from states or from enterprises operating under the authority of states. For so long as there are vulnerable stocks of materials 2 suited to nuclear or radiological weapons and violent extremists bent on mass destruction, the threat of nuclear terrorism will be real.

Existing nuclear arsenals pose not only the danger of their being used, but also that they might be bought or stolen by a state or non-state actor. These dangers currently are greatest in South Asia. At the heart of the international regime is the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

To the extent that the Treaty is seen as failing to prevent proliferation, failing to lead to progress in nuclear disarmament, or failing to promote peaceful uses of nuclear energy, its overall credibility is undercut. United Nations resolutions, multilateral institutions, and voluntary associations focused on nonproliferation also face major challenges.

2. What should DOE be doing to help the United States Government prepare to meet those challenges?

The response to this question is an integral part of the response to Question 4 (“In what ways should DOE’s nuclear nonproliferation efforts be modified and/or expanded?”).

3. What are DOE’s current areas of emphasis in nuclear nonproliferation? DOE’s nonproliferation programs have made and are making essential contributions to U.S. national security. Current activities fall predominantly into four key areas: materials security and counterterrorism; nonproliferation and arms control; research and development; and intelligence. These areas of activity are discussed in response to Question 3, and implicitly in response to Question 4.

4. In what ways should DOE’s nuclear nonproliferation efforts be modified and/or expanded?

The Task Force offers a candidate “vision” of a world that sustained nonproliferation efforts by the U.S. and others might reasonably be expected to achieve in the intermediate term (e.g., 10-15 years); a proposed list of priorities for DOE efforts in support of that vision; and, consistent with the vision and priorities, a set of recommendations for modification and/or expansion of DOE efforts. Vision. Sustained nonproliferation efforts by the U.S. and others might reasonably be expected to achieve in the intermediate term (e.g., 10-15 years) a world in which:

• The number of states with nuclear weapons has decreased (or at least not increased);

• All nuclear weapons and weapons-usable materials are effectively and sustainably secured against the full range of plausible threats (including cyber breaches), and other steps have been taken to bring the probability of nuclear or radiological terrorism to the lowest achievable level;

• The numbers of deployed and non-deployed nuclear weapons have been reduced substantially, and they are postured in ways that reduce the risks of their being used; 3

• Measures that reduce both the demand for nuclear weapons and the supply of technologies to proliferating states’ nuclear weapons programs have been put in place worldwide;

• The risks of nuclear activities have been substantially reduced through expanded transparency, verification, and multinational control;

• There is stronger global governance of nuclear activities; and • Countries can enjoy the benefits of nuclear energy with decreased proliferation risks. Priorities. In light of the foregoing vision, the Task Force believes that DOE’s nonproliferation efforts should be concentrated in the following areas:

• Support U.S. Government efforts to formulate and implement nuclear nonproliferation policies;

• Prevent nuclear and radiological terrorism; • Halt illicit transfers of nuclear technology;

• Build the foundations for dealing with future challenges and opportunities; • Provide intelligence to guide policy; and

• Reduce the proliferation risks of nuclear energy. Recommendations. The Task Force offers a total of 17 specific recommendations, and suggestions for how they might be implemented, in the following general areas:

• Support U.S. Government efforts to formulate and implement nuclear nonproliferation policies;

• Prevent nuclear and radiological terrorism; • Halt illicit transfers of nuclear technology;

• Build the foundations for dealing with future nonproliferation challenges and opportunities;

• Provide intelligence to guide policy;

• Manage the proliferation risks of nuclear energy; and

• Enhance U.S. approaches to plutonium management and disposition.

5. What obstacles stand in the way of making the recommended changes in DOE’s nuclear nonproliferation activities, and how might they be overcome?

A variety of barriers could stand in the way of implementing the recommendations offered by the Task Force. The principal obstacles addressed in this report are the following:

• Limited foreign willingness to cooperate;

• Limited resources – of both people and money;

• Need for improved DOE management;

• Need for intensified DOE engagement with other agencies;

• Limited understanding of the DOE program; and

• Absence of a disposition path for used fuel and high-level waste. Many of the barriers to implementation of the Task Force recommendations are not subject to DOE’s sole control. Nevertheless, given the importance of the nonproliferation program, an aggressive effort to join with others to overcome the barriers is warranted.

 

The full report is available here.

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Carnesale, Albert, Matthew Bunn, John Deutch, Gary Samore, et al. “Secretary of Energy Advisory Board: Report of the Task Force on Nuclear Nonproliferation.” U.S. Department of Energy, March 31, 2015.

The Authors

Gary Samore