Report - Managing the Atom Project, Belfer Center

China’s Nuclear Security: Progress, Challenges, and Next Steps

| March 28, 2016

In a new report from the Project on Managing the Atom, Senior Research Associate Hui Zhang finds that China has made important nuclear security improvements in areas ranging from its legal framework, to its approaches to physical protection and material accounting, to bolstering nuclear security culture.

But China also faces ongoing threats. The possibility of insider theft of nuclear materials in China cannot be ruled out, espe­cially as China increasingly grows into a market-oriented society contending with corruption. Zhang also notes that Beijing faces a growing terrorism threat from separatists in China’s autonomous Xinjiang region.

At the 2014 nuclear security summit, President Xi emphasized, that “the more we do to enhance nuclear security, the less chance we will leave to terrorists.” Converting Chinese leader’s stated commitment into practical, sustainable reality will require China to undertake a number of steps to further improve China’s nuclear security.The report recommends a number of measures including:

  • Strengthening nuclear security and control by implementing a national “design basis threat,” updating and enforcing additional nuclear security regulations, and conducting realistic force-on-force exercises at its nuclear facilities;
  • Improving cyber security requirements at nuclear facilities by incorporating cyber protection into nuclear security regulations and guidelines, integrating cyber security measures in physical protection and accounting systems, and making cyber security plans and threat assessments a part of nuclear regulators’ inspection routines;
  • Bolstering nuclear security culture, by ensuring each operator establishes a targeted program to assess and improve its facility’s security cul­ture, and requiring licensees to make nuclear security culture a core responsibility of management;
  • Increasing international confidence in China’s nuclear security by joining the Strengthening Nuclear Security Implementation initiative along with the other 35 countries that pledged at the 2014 Nuclear Security, sharing additional information on its nuclear security practices and policies.
  • Strengthening international cooperation. China and the United States should use the newly established Center of Excellent on Nuclear Security in Beijing as a forum for best-practice exchanges, technical cooperation, research and development projects, and regional and global personnel training. U.S.-China cooperation should also be expanded to include more focused work related to the defense sector, and should restart lab-to-lab cooperation.
For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Zhang, Hui. “China’s Nuclear Security: Progress, Challenges, and Next Steps.” Managing the Atom Project, Belfer Center, March 28, 2016.