Nuclear Issues

1168 Items

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer uses a handheld GR135- Radiation Isttope Identifier to check a container that was stopped after passing through a radiation detection device at the port of Newark in February 2006 (AP Photo/Mel Evans).

AP Photo/Mel Evans

Journal Article - Nonproliferation Review

Combating Nuclear Smuggling? Exploring Drivers and Challenges to Detecting Nuclear and Radiological Materials at Maritime Facilities

| June 03, 2019

International concern over nuclear terrorism has grown during the past few decades. This has driven a broad spectrum of efforts to strengthen nuclear security globally, including the widespread adoption of radiation-detection technology for border monitoring. Detection systems are now deployed at strategic locations for the purported purpose of detecting and deterring the smuggling of nuclear and radioactive materials. However, despite considerable investment in this area, few studies have examined how these programs are implemented or the operational challenges they face on a day-to-day basis. This article seeks to address this with a focus on radiation-detection efforts at maritime facilities. Utilizing practitioner interviews and a survey, this article identifies the factors that influence the planning and use of these systems in this fast-moving environment. The results clearly demonstrate that the implementation of these systems varies significantly across different national and organizational contexts, resulting in a fragmented global nuclear-detection architecture, which arguably undermines efforts to detect trafficked nuclear-threat materials. Greater consideration should therefore be given to developing international standards and guidance, designing and adopting tools to support key parts of the alarm assessment process, and broader sharing of good practice.

President Barack Obama walks with John P. Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, at the White House in Washington, Friday, March 7, 2014.

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

News - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

John P. Holdren Receives Japan's Order of the Rising Sun

| May 22, 2019

The Government of Japan has announced that its prestigious Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star will be awarded to John P. Holdren, Co-Director of the Belfer Center's Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program and former Assistant to the President for Science and Technology during the Obama administration. Holdren will receive the award for his "contributions to strengthening relations between the two countries in science and technology."

A DF-15B short-range ballistic missile as seen after the military parade held in Beijing to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII in 2015 (Wikimedia/IceUnshattered).

Wikimedia/IceUnshattered

Analysis & Opinions - East Asia Forum

China's Calculus After the INF Treaty

| May 08, 2019

It seems that the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty is coming to an end. The Treaty prohibits the United States and Russia from possessing, producing or testing land-based ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500–5500 kilometres, including both conventional and nuclear-armed missiles. On 1 February 2019, US President Trump said that he would suspend obligations under the INF Treaty and initiate the withdrawal procedure. After withdrawing, the United States might deploy conventional and nuclear missiles to the West Pacific against China. How would the potential deployment of each missile type impact China’s security?

Discussion Paper - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

A Theory of Engagement With North Korea

| May 2019

At the Hanoi Summit in February 2019, the United States and North Korea reached a familiar impasse—diplomacy broke down over the appropriate order of near-term steps, and the world was left wondering whether any package of rewards would be enough to incentivize denuclearization.

In a new Managing the Atom Discussion Paper, Christopher Lawrence outlines an alternative conceptual framework for engaging North Korea. Rather than offering rewards for nuclear rollback, the approach focuses on building credibility around the notion of a shared political future. Lawrence suggests that physical actions—such as shared investments in integrated rail, electricity, or mining infrastructure—speak more credibly about the political future for all the parties involved than do written commitments or more transient “carrots” and “sticks.” The international relationships created by infrastructure projects may alter North Korea's security calculus over time, and incrementally reduce its dependence on nuclear weapons. Drawing lessons from the 1994 Agreed Framework, Lawrence reinterprets the history of nonproliferation engagement with North Korea, and illuminates possible opportunities to break the diplomatic impasse after the Hanoi summit.

Senator Lugar at a 2012 ceremony where he received the Distinguished Public Service Award, the highest award the Department of Defense can give a civilian, for his work to help denuclearize countries after the fall of the Soviet Union (DoD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo).

DoD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

Analysis & Opinions - Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Senator Richard G. Lugar: An Appreciation

| Apr. 30, 2019

Sen. Richard Lugar—with his legislative partner, Sen. Sam Nunn—imagined the unimaginable. He championed a program to provide assistance to military forces in the former Soviet republics holding tens of thousands of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons aimed at the United States and our allies, shortly after America’s existential enemy, the Soviet Union, expired. All told, the Nunn-Lugar cooperative threat reduction program provided more than $14 billion to, among other things, deactivate 13,300 nuclear warheads, eliminate 1,473 intercontinental ballistic missiles, and destroy almost 40,000 metric tons of chemical agents. The US departments of Defense and Energy also worked with Russia to improve security at 148 sites still holding nuclear weapons or weapons-grade material from Murmansk to Kamchatka.

The nuclear archive warehouse outside Tehran (Satellite image via Google).

Satellite image via Google

Report - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

The Iran Nuclear Archive: Impressions and Implications

In mid-January, a team of scholars from the Belfer Center’s Intelligence and Managing the Atom Projects traveled to Tel Aviv, Israel to examine samples of, and receive briefings on, an archive of documents related to Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The large cache includes some 55,000 pages of documents and a further 55,000 files on CDs that included photos and videos. A clandestine Israeli intelligence operation spirited the materials out of Iran in early 2018.

The documents that the Belfer group were shown confirm that senior Iranian officials had decided in the late 1990s to actually manufacture nuclear weapons and carry out an underground nuclear test; that Iran’s program to do so made more technical progress than had previously been understood; and that Iran had help from quite a number of foreign scientists, and access to several foreign nuclear weapon designs. The archive also leaves open a wide range of questions, including what plan, if any, Iran has had with respect to nuclear weapons in the nearly 16 years since Iran’s government ordered a halt to most of the program in late 2003. 

This brief report summarizes the group’s conclusions about what the archive reveals about Iran’s program and questions that remain open.

Monument for victims of Chernobyl in front of covef

AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky

Analysis & Opinions - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Thirty-three Years Since the Catastrophe at Chernobyl: A Universal Lesson for the Global Nuclear Power Industry

| Apr. 25, 2019

The world will soberly commemorate the 33rd anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant catastrophic accident on Friday, April 26, 2019.  Some may wonder why bother with a gone-by historical event that happened in a distant land — a country that no longer exists — the former Soviet Union (now Ukraine).  On the contrary, Chernobyl and its legacy, with its specters of lingering human toll, radiation contamination, and the massive new shelter ("New Safe Confinement") installed over the old sarcophagus encasing the reactor, will be with us for a long time.

Journal Article - Science & Global Security

A Cryptographic Escrow for Treaty Declarations and Step-by-Step Verification

| Apr. 25, 2019

The verification of arms-control and disarmament agreements requires states to provide declarations, including information on sensitive military sites and assets. There are important cases, however, in which negotiations of these agreements are impeded because states are reluctant to provide any such data, because of concerns about prematurely handing over militarily significant information. To address this challenge, we present a cryptographic escrow that allows a state to make a complete declaration of sites and assets at the outset and commit to its content, but only reveal the sensitive information therein sequentially. Combined with an inspection regime, our escrow allows for step-by-step verification of the correctness and completeness of the initial declaration so that the information release and inspections keep pace with parallel diplomatic and political processes. We apply this approach to the possible denuclearization of North Korea. Such approach can be applied, however, to any agreement requiring the sharing of sensitive information.

Nigeria's Miniature Neutron Source Reactor was the last operational research reactor in Africa to make the conversion from HEU to LEU. Here, the HEU once used in the reactor is loaded for shipment back to China, the supplier (IAEA).

IAEA

Policy Brief - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Securing Nuclear Weapons and Materials Worldwide: Expanded Funding Needed for a More Ambitious Approach

| Apr. 19, 2019

The Trump administration budget request for programs to reduce the dangers of nuclear theft and terrorism is too small to implement the ambitious approach that is needed. Congress should increase funding in this critical area; direct the administration to develop and implement a comprehensive plan for improving security for nuclear weapons and materials worldwide; and exert expanded oversight of this effort. This brief highlights the importance of ongoing nuclear security work; describes the evolving budget picture; and outlines recommendations for congressional action.

A detail of the video board at the UN showing the votes in favor, against and the abstention after a vote to adopt the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer).

Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

Journal Article - Washington Quarterly

Addressing the Nuclear Ban Treaty

| Apr. 16, 2019

The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), a bedrock of international security, had the 50-year anniversary of its signing in 2018. While the existence of the treaty has not been able to prevent a handful of states from seeking nuclear weapons, for half a century the NPT has promoted norms of nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament. Only nine states possess nuclear weapons today, far below the number predicted early in the nuclear age. Nonetheless, a second nuclear treaty, adopted in 2017, represents a significant and growing crack in the foundation of the NPT and suggests that relations among its members need to change if the treaty is going to survive another 50 years.