Book Chapter - Hoover Institution Press

Securing Nuclear Stockpiles Worldwide

| December 9, 2008

Matthew Bunn authored the chapter "Securing Nuclear Stockpiles Worldwide" in the book Reykjavik Revisited: Steps Toward a World Free of Nuclear Weapons.

The key judgements from the chapter include the following points:

  • Nuclear terrorism is a real and urgent threat. Both al Qaeda and Aum Shinrikyo (and possibly some Chechen factions) have sought nuclear weapons and the materials to make them. If a sophisticated and well-financed group got separated plutonium or highly enriched uranium (HEU), it is plausible they could make a crude nuclear explosive.
  • The most effective tool for reducing this risk is to strengthen security for all nuclear weapons and weapons-usable nuclear materials worldwide. Preventing theft of nuclear weapons and materials would also block a major shortcut for states seeking nuclear weapons. After nuclear material has been stolen, all later lines of defense are variations on looking for needles in haystacks.
  • Accurate and transparent accounting of nuclear weapons and materials stockpiles—a key part of a comprehensive nuclear security approach—will also be an essential part of a verifiable path to deep reductions in, or prohibition of, nuclear weapons.
  • Although current efforts to improve security for nuclear weapons and materials have made substantial progress, particularly in Russia, unacceptable risks remain. Hundreds of buildings with plutonium or HEU in many countries around the world are demonstrably not secured against the kinds of outsider and insider threats that terrorists and criminals have shown they can pose.
  • Efforts to improve nuclear security around the world must meet three goals: to improve security fast enough so that the security upgrades get there before the thieves do; to improve security to a high enough level to protect stockpiles of nuclear weapons and materials against plausible terrorist and criminal threats; and tosustain effective security over time. There are inevitable tensions between these three goals, but all must be met to reduce the risk of nuclear terrorism substantially for the long haul.
  • The main obstacles to achieving these goals are: (a) complacency about the threat; (b) resistance from nuclear managers and officials who would have to pay the costs and bear the inconveniences of improved security; (c) secrecy; (d) concerns over national sovereignty; (e) bureaucratic inertia; and (f) the sheer difficulty of changing the attitudes and daily behavior (the “security culture”) of thousands of people around the world who handle or guard nuclear weapons and materials.
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For Academic Citation: Bunn, Matthew. “Securing Nuclear Stockpiles Worldwide.” In Reykjavik Revisited: Steps Toward a World Free of Nuclear Weapons, Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, December 9, 2008.

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