Blog Post - Nuclear Security Matters

Is China Complacent About Nuclear Security?

Mar. 13, 2014

By Hui Zhang
Like dozens of other world leaders, Chinese President Xi Jinping is preparing to attend the third Nuclear Security Summit, which will take place in The Hague on March 24 and 25.  China actively participated in the first two summits, and since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, China has indeed made strides in strengthening its system for protecting nuclear facilities.  To make sure that nuclear security systems are actually implemented effectively, however, the development of a strong security culture—in which the relevant individuals hold a deeply rooted belief that insider and outsider threats are credible—is imperative.

Unfortunately, many Chinese experts continue to doubt that there is a credible threat to Chinese nuclear materials and facilities. Some do endorse Chinese commitments to upgrading nuclear security, but only because they see it as necessary to comply with international requirements, not because they actually see the threat as serious; they argue that nuclear terrorism may be a problem for the United States, but is not an urgent concern for China.

Armed guards and police protecting a spent fuel convoy while at a stopping point. (Ministry of Public Security CN photo)

One cannot count on the authorities to effectively battle a danger they do not believe is real. If those responsible for security come to understand the seriousness of the threat of nuclear terrorism, on the other hand, they are more likely to take appropriate precautions.  For China to improve its security systems, it will have to overcome the complacency that exists at all levels of the nuclear infrastructure. 

I discuss Chinese perceptions of the threat of nuclear terrorism in a new piece in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

The fact is that nuclear or radiological terrorism could affect China in a variety of ways—from a direct attack within China, to theft from China resulting in an attack elsewhere, to an incident that has nothing to do with China, but affects the viability of nuclear energy development globally. 

Everyone from senior experts and industry leaders to facility operators and plant employees must come to understand that the threat of nuclear terrorism is real, and to begin to change the way they think about it.  Advanced devices can provide effective security up to a point, but human choices are more important.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Is China Complacent About Nuclear Security?.” Nuclear Security Matters, March 13, 2014,