Progress & Gaps

Nuclear security around the world has improved substantially over the last twenty years, yet there remains much to be done in securing nuclear weapons and weapons-usable materials, nuclear facilities, and radiological sources. The following reports provide insights on what progress has already been made, and what work remains to be done. These documents are drawn from Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, as well as from other leading scholars and organizations working on issues of nuclear security and nuclear terrorism.


Preventing Nuclear Terrorism: Continuous Improvement or Dangerous Decline?
March 2016 | Report
By Matthew Bunn, Martin Malin, William Tobey, and Nickolas Roth

This report provides a global assessment of nuclear security. Significant progress has been made securing vulnerable nuclear weapons-usable material—reducing the number of countries with these materials by more than half, securing scores of sites around the world, and much more. But the work is not done. There are new threats, and global attention to nuclear security may be waning. (click here to view)

Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors
January 2016 | Report
U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

Following a report on the same topic in 2009, this report recaps progress made, identifies opportunities for improvement, and recommends next steps to further reduce the use of HEU for research and medical purposes around the world. (click here to view)

2016 Nuclear Security Index
2016 | Online resource
Nuclear Threat Initiative

The NTI Nuclear Security Index provides a quantitative assessment of the overall nuclear materials security conditions in a country by looking at openly available information on indicators in different categories relevant to the risk of theft. The 2016 version includes a new section on how vulnerable nuclear facilities are to sabotage and cyber attacks.

Beyond Nuclear Summitry: The Role of the IAEA in Nuclear Security Diplomacy After 2016
March 2013 | Discussion Paper
Harvard Kennedy School | Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
By Trevor Findlay

Since it became apparent that the nuclear security summits are likely to end with a final meeting in Washington DC in 2016 there has been much speculation―but little detailed analysis―as to what might replace them. One candidate touted as a suitable inheritor of the summits’ mantle is the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This discussion paper examines whether and how the IAEA could and should do so, what form its role might take, and how the Agency and the summiteers might prepare for such an eventuality. (click here to view)

Securing China's Weapons-Usable Nuclear Material
February 2014 | Journal Article
Science and Global Security
By Hui Zhang

"This article describes the status of China’s military and civilian nuclear programs, fissile material production and associated nuclear facilities, and the Chinese nuclear experts and officials’ perspectives on the nuclear terrorism threat. It gives details of China’s nuclear security practices, attitudes, and regulations, as well as identifying areas of concern. The article recommends ways to strengthen China’s nuclear material protection, control, and accounting systems and suggests opportunities for increased international cooperation." (click here to view)

The Four-Year Effort: Contributions of the Global Threat Reduction Initiative to Secure the World's Most Vulnerable Nuclear Material
December 2013 | Report
National Nuclear Security Administration | Global Threat Reduction Initiative

"As President Obama’s Four-Year Effort comes to a close this month, NNSA is highlighting the work carried out by its nonproliferation programs to reduce the threat of vulnerable nuclear material around the world. In support of the Four-Year Effort, NNSA’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) led the effort to secure and, when possible, eliminate these dangerous materials." (click here to view)


Nuclear Security Updates from Regional Representatives
Report Series
Fissile Materials Working Group

These reports, published by the Fissile Materials Working Group (FMWG), provide regional updates and analysis on issues relating to nuclear security and security for weapons-usable materials. Regions covered in the reports include Asia and the Pacific, the Former Soviet Union, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Western Europe.  

What Types of Nuclear Material Require What Levels of Security?
February 2014 | Presentation
Harvard Kennedy School | Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
By Matthew Bunn

In this presentation to an Institute for Nuclear Materiials Management workshop on risk-informing security, Matthew Bunn proposes a new approach to judging which materials would be easiest or more difficult for terrorists to use in a nuclear bomb, and hence which materials require more or less security. (click here to view)

NTI Nuclear Materials Security Index - Building a Framework for Assurance, Accountability, and Action
January 2014 | Report
Nuclear Threat Initiative

"The 2014 Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) Nuclear Materials Security Index is the second edition of a first-of-its-kind public assessment of nuclear materials security conditions around the world. Developed with the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the NTI Index was created (a) to assess the security of weapons-usable nuclear materials around the world and (b) to encourage governments to take actions and provide assurances about the security of the world’s deadliest materials." (click here to view)

Beyond Crises: The Unending Challenge of Controlling Nuclear Weapons and Materials
July 2013 | Book Chapter
U.S. Army War College | Strategic Studies Institute
By Matthew Bunn

This book chapter provides a brief history of efforts to secure nuclear material in the United States. It argues that complacency is the most important driver of nuclear security problems. (click here to view)

Progress on Securing Nuclear Weapons and Materials: The Four-Year Effort and Beyond
March 2012 | Report
Harvard Kennedy School | Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
By Matthew Bunn, Eben Harrell, and Martin B. Malin

Released prior to the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit, this report assesses the status of the international initiative to secure all vulnerable nuclear stockpiles and provides recommendations for making further progress. (click here to view)

The Nuclear Security Summit: Progress Report
March 2012 | Report
Arms Control Association
By Michelle Cann, Kelsey Davenport and Sarah Williams

"This report seeks to provide a comprehensive overview of the progress states have made to improve nuclear security over the course of the NSS process, drawing specific attention to actions taken since the Seoul summit. It uses the progress reports submitted by participating states at the 2012 summit, statements made to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) General Conference, IAEA Nuclear Security Reports, government press releases, and media reports to identify actions countries have taken in support of the summits’ goals. This approach aims to provide a complete record of achievements, but inconsistencies in how and what states report complicate efforts to evaluate progress using open sources." (click here to view)

Approaches to Strengthen China's Nuclear Security
July 2012 | Paper
Harvard Kennedy School | Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
By Hui Zhang

This paper assesses China’s material protection, control, and accounting approaches; analyzes existing regulations and administrative systems; and proposes ways of strengthening them. (click here to view)

Securing the Bomb Series
2002-2010 | Report
Nuclear Threat Initiative
By Matthew Bunn

"The NTI-commissioned reports won readership among journalists and policy experts, triggered legislation in Congress and helped frame the debate for political candidates. The comprehensive reports on nuclear materials security are researched and written under the leadership of Dr. Matthew Bunn at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs." (click here to view)

Incentives for Nuclear Security
June 2005 | Conference Paper
Harvard Kennedy School | Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
By Matthew Bunn

This paper outlines approaches under which U.S. policy and policies by other key governments could provide incentives to put in place effective nuclear security, at the state or ministry level, at the facility level, and at the individual level. (click here to view)

Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe
August 2004 | Book
Henry Holt & Company
By Graham Allison

In this book, Belfer Center Director Graham Allison provides in plain and accessible terms the “who, what, where, when and how” of impending terrorist strikes and thus delineates the challenge we face.  He also sets out an ambitious but feasible agenda to prevent this terrible threat. (click here to view)

Advancing Nuclear Security: Evaluating Progress and Setting New Goals
March 2014 | Report
Harvard Kennedy School | Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
By Matthew Bunn, Martin B. Malin, Nickolas Roth, and William H. Tobey

"In the lead-up to the nuclear security summit in The Hague, Advancing Nuclear Security: Evaluating Progress and Setting New Goals outlines what was accomplished in a four-year effort launched in 2009 to secure nuclear material around the globe—and what remains to be done....The authors conclude that “all countries with nuclear weapons, separated plutonium, or highly enriched uranium (HEU) on their soil have more to do to ensure these items are effectively and lastingly secured.”  (click here to view)

Threat Perceptions and Drivers of Change in Nuclear Security Around the World: Results of a Survey
March 2014 | Report
Harvard Kennedy School | Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
By Matthew Bunn and Eben Harrell 

Leaders at the 2010 nuclear security summit agreed on the goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear material in four years. This goal implied that many countries would change their nuclear security policies. But the factors that drive changes in nuclear security policies, and that constrain those changes, are not well understood. We conducted a survey of selected nuclear security experts in countries with nuclear weapons, highly enriched uranium (HEU), or separated plutonium, to explore this issue. This paper describes the survey, its results, and implications for next steps to strengthen global nuclear security. (click here to view)

Consolidation: Thwarting Nuclear Theft
March 2012 | Report
Harvard Kennedy School | Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
By Matthew Bunn and Eben Harrell

This paper (a) discusses how to set priorities among different stocks to be consolidated; (b) describes the scope and progress of existing consolidation efforts; and (c) suggests steps to complement and extend the existing programs. Our discussion of the next steps for consolidation will fall into two categories: covering additional stocks and facilities that are not yet effectively addressed, and using additional policy approaches to strengthen the effort. On the next page, table ES-1 summarizes our recommendations. (click here to view)