Materials Protection, Control, and Accounting (MPC&A)

The Issue | Obstacles | Q & A | Quick Facts |Legislation | Agreements | Talking Points | Recommendations

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The Issue

At the end of the Cold War, Russia was left with hundreds of tons of unsecured plutonium-239 and Highly Enriched Uranium.[1] Both can be used to create nuclear weapons. As centralized Soviet authority crumbled, so did the rigorous security practices governing its fissile materials and nuclear weapons. Russia's weakened economy and its poorly secured nuclear infrastructure placed its weapons complex at risk of becoming a "Home Depot" for terrorists and rogue states.

The United States Congress first took action to secure the Soviet nuclear infrastructure in 1991, passing the Soviet Nuclear Threat Reduction Act(Public Law 102-228). Commonly referred to as the "Nunn-Lugar" program after the two senators who pioneered its creation-Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA) and Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN)-the legislation gave the president the authority to establish a collaborative program to help the former Soviet Union protect and dismantle its stockpiles of nuclear weapons, technologies, and delivery systems. Part of this Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program was an effort to provide security upgrades for nuclear weapons materials. These upgrades, which have come to be known as Material Protection, Control, and Accounting (MPC&A) upgrades, can consist of a wide array of activities-from building perimeter fences around material sites to training guards to improve overall security culture to installing high-tech detection equipment.

MPC&A projects were first coordinated by the both the Department of Defense (DOD), under the CTR Government-to-Government program, and the Department of Energy (DOE), under the Laboratory-to-Laboratory program.[2] The Government-to-Government program, working with a limited budget, attempted to provide MPC&A upgrades to several nuclear facilities in Russia, including some in Russia's closed nuclear cities.[3] However, the program ran into several obstacles, most due to the distrust between the US and Russia and the sensitive nature of the facilities, and the Department of Defense transferred program responsibility to the Department of Energy, which was having far more success in its Laboratory-to-Laboratory program. The DOE program was able to surmount some vestiges of Cold War animosities by basing its projects on long-standing relationships between scientists of the national laboratories and institutes of the respective countries.[4] In September 1995, DOE became the Executive Agent of all MPC&A efforts between the US and the FSU.[5] In February 1997, DOE consolidated the two programs into a single program, aptly named the Material Protection, Control and Accounting (MPC&A) program.[6]

The MPC&A program, now split into separate projects under the National Nuclear Security Administration's overarching International Nuclear Materials Protection and Cooperation (INMP&C) program, has become a top priority in DOE's nonproliferation efforts. The projects are categorized by the type of site where upgrades are to be provided. The largest portion of MPC&A funds currently goes to securing sites operated by Russia's Strategic Rocket Forces and the 12th Main Directorate. The 12th Main Directorate is the primary military organization responsible for Russia's "warhead security and maintenance."[7] Nine of its sites have been approved for US MPC&A upgrades.[8] The US has also approved funding for twenty-five sites operated by the Strategic Rocket Forces, which control Russia's land-based Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs).[9]

INMP&C also provides upgrades for the nuclear weapons complex operated by the Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency, known as Rosatom. The Rosatom complex upgrades are for nuclear weapons, uranium enrichment, material processing, and material storage sites, as well as for four "Enterprises of the Nuclear Weapons Complex" in Russia's nine closed nuclear cities.[10] [See Issue Brief - Nuclear Cities Initiative] Because of the extreme sensitivity of the nuclear Enterprises, Russia has not yet cleared the US to perform security upgrades at those sites. The Civilian Nuclear Cites program works to provide MPC&A upgrades at eighteen Russian and thirteen non-Russian civilian sites.[11] One of the earliest MPC&A target areas, under which US upgrades are almost complete, was the Russian Navy complex. A total of fifty sites, composed of thirty-nine Russian Navy nuclear warhead sites and eleven naval fuel and materials sites, are to receive MPC&A upgrades.[12] The National Nuclear Security Administration also operates programs to help consolidate Russia's nuclear material into fewer sites to reduce both security risks and storage costs.

An important piece of NNSA's MPC&A suite is the National Programs and Sustainability element. While MPC&A upgrades are clearly important, the US needs assurance that its investment will produce security returns. The sustainability element helps Russia and other partner countries "develop regulations and inspection capabilities, site safeguards and security programs, training and regional support, and site sustainability" in order to help other countries maintain the MPC&A infrastructure once US assistance ends.[13]

Current MPC&A programs in Russia are broken into two phases. First, NNSA installs "rapid upgrades that are designed to delay unauthorized access to the storage facilities."[14] These upgrades consist of physical barriers, perimeter fences, security doors and windows, and access controls. The second phase consists of "comprehensive upgrades" designed for each specific facility. "These may include monitoring and detection systems, the relocation of guard forces, the consolidation of materials, central alarm systems, and electronic access control systems."[15]

In February 2005, US President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin came to agreement on what have become known as the Bratislava Initiatives. One of these Initiatives specified that the US and Russia would "develop a plan of work through and beyond 2008 for cooperation on security upgrades of nuclear facilities."[16] This plan of work entails that security upgrades will be completed by 2008. The US is currently on pace to meet this goal.




  • The US was often denied access to sensitive Russian nuclear sites, preventing the provision of assistance and security upgrades.
  • The US has no guarantees that security upgrades provided to Russian cites will be maintained once US financial assistance to Russia ceases.



Q & A

Q: What fraction of sites has received US security upgrades?
A: Under the INMP&C program, several vulnerable sites have received MPC&A upgrades. As of the end of FY 2006, the Department of Energy has released information for the following sites:[17]

  • 37 of 39 Russian Navy nuclear warhead sites
  • 11 of 11 Russian Navy fuel and other nuclear material storage sites
  • 14 of 25 Strategic Rocket Forces sites
  • 0 of 9 12th Main Directorate sites (all of which are receiving comprehensive upgrades)

In total, 64 percent of FSU buildings containing nuclear material have received at least rapid MPC&A upgrades by the end of FY 2005.[18]


Q: What else is being done to secure inadequately protected nuclear materials in the FSU?
A: The US Government's nonproliferation programs, originating with the Pentagon's Cooperative Threat Reduction program, have been active in securing FSU nuclear weapons and materials for fifteen years. CTR's Strategic Offensive Arms Elimination has been extremely successful in deactivating nuclear warheads, securing nuclear material, and eliminating the delivery systems and infrastructure of the former Soviet nuclear weapons complex. The Pentagon also operates the Nuclear Weapons Storage Security and Nuclear Weapons Transportation Security programs.[19] The US and Russia recently created the Global Initiative to Combat Terrorism, which aims to supplement MPC&A efforts. [See Issue Brief - Global Initiatives].



Quick Facts

  • Four kilograms of plutonium, which is about the size of a baseball, could be turned into a bomb about as powerful as the one that destroyed Hiroshima.
  • Documents found in November 2001 in a Kabul building believed to be an al Qaeda safe house contained details about how to produce nuclear weapons.
  • Only 29 percent of FSU nuclear material had received completed comprehensive upgrades by the end of FY 2005.[20]



Recent Legislation

  • The Nuclear Gold Standard Act of 2006 (H.R. 5066), which has not been passed into law, would call for the US and Russia to develop a "gold standard" for nuclear materials protection. The bill would also authorize $2.5 billion for fiscal years 2007 through 2011 for programs related to nuclear material security, including MPC&A sustainability programs.



Applicable Treaties, Legislation, and Other International Agreements

  • Title II of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty Implementation Act of 1991 (Public Law 102-228), known as the Soviet Nuclear Threat Reduction Act of 1991, authorized what has come to be known as the Cooperative Threat Reduction program. The CTR (or Nunn-Lugar program) has expanded to include MPC&A programs.
  • United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540 (2004) requires all states to develop national legislation criminalizing non-state actor possession of weapons of mass destruction. The resolution also calls for states to build up their capacities to prevent the trafficking of WMDs and WMD materials.



Talking Points

  • While MPC&A programs have seen great success, much remains to be done.
  • Serious questions remain regarding the sustainability of US investments in securing Russia's weapons grade materials, particularly given that Russia is more concerned about threats from dirty bombs than a crude nuclear weapon fashioned from black market materials.
  • According to the Federation of American Scientists, building a nuclear weapon, with all the materials in hand, is frighteningly easy. "Although talented people are essential to the success of any nuclear weapons program, the fundamental physics, chemistry, and engineering involved are widely understood; no basic research is required to construct a nuclear weapon."[21]
  • In February 2005, US President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to the Bratislava Initiatives. One of these Initiatives specified that the US and Russia would "develop a plan of work through and beyond 2008 for cooperation on security upgrades of nuclear facilities."




  • A National Security Council designee should spearhead an interagency process to reassess the global role of threat reduction efforts in today's context. One of the main objectives of this reassessment is to produce a detailed and timely analysis, including an "exit strategy" for US assistance where appropriate. This strategy should include provisions on how to sustain security upgrades for Russian nuclear warheads and materials once US assistance ends, which will help move the US-Russian relationship away from patronage and toward partnership. Roles for the G8 Global Partnership and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism should also be explored.
    [See Book Recommendations #1 and #5]
  • The global reassessment (mentioned above) should be used as the foundation for an ongoing process within the US government to set priorities, ensure coherence, and streamline ongoing activities. Given the threat of nuclear weapons, this process should push for the acceleration of further MPC&A efforts.
    [See Book Recommendation #2]
  • The US should encourage wider collaboration internationally to better leverage Global Partnership funding across national boundaries. Other countries may have a better opportunity to gain access to sensitive nuclear sites within Russia, allowing them to provide MPC&A upgrades at a quicker pace.
    [See Book Recommendation #3]
  • The US Government should take the lead in coordinating a sustained program to match the expanded tools of cooperative nonproliferation with states in apparent need of assistance to fulfill UN Security Council Resolution 1540 commitments. Vulnerable nuclear material in need of MPC&A upgrades exists throughout the world, and states with the ability to provide assistance should be providing it.
    [See Book Recommendation #4]
  • At the start of any program, the US agency involved should build consensus with the respective host country regarding the threats and ensure host country support for the objectives and commitments to sustain the efforts after US support ends. Russia and the US have experienced numerous conflicts over the nature of the threat (improvised nuclear devices versus radiological dispersal devices) and US access to sensitive nuclear sites.
    [See Book Recommendation #6]
  • Create a bicameral congressional task force whose objective is to regularly provide briefings from a broad array of the actors involved in actual implementation of CNP initiatives. This can help expedite the process of securing nuclear material. If a task force proves politically infeasible, NNSA officials could brief members of Congress on the necessity of MPC&A programs.
    [See Book Recommendations #7 and #19]
  • Channel scientist redirect programs to meet the needs of other government programs. US MPC&A programs create a demand in Russia for security technology. Former nuclear weapons scientists can help design this technology and create new safeguard equipment to aid CNP programs. By coordinating programs to redirect scientists with internal US Government programs to achieve specific technological advances needed to solve our own energy, nonproliferation, counterterrorism, intelligence and other needs, the US could better achieve its existing nonproliferation goals with respect to brain drain while exploring potential technological solutions to existing security concerns at lower cost.
    [See Book Recommendations #8, #17 and #18]

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[1] Highly Enriched Uranium is at least 20 percent Uranium-235.

[2] Nuclear Threat Initiative, "Russia: DOE MPC&A Program," 1 February 2005, accessed at:

[3] Nuclear Threat Initiative, "Russia: Government-to-Government Program," 13 April 2001, accessed at:

[4] Nuclear Threat Initiative, "Russia: Lab-to-Lab Program," 13 April 2001, accessed at:

[5] Nuclear Threat Initiative, "Russia: Government-to-Government Program," op. cit., note 4.

[6] Nuclear Threat Initiative, "Russia: DOE MPC&A Program," op. cit., note 3.

[7] Amy F. Woolf, "Nonproliferation and Threat Reduction Assistance: US Programs in the Soviet Union," 26 June 2006, accessed at:

[8] Department of Energy, "FY 2007 Congressional Budget Request," (February 2006): 515, accessed at:

[9] Ibid.

[10] Amy Woolf, "Nonproliferation and Threat Reduction Assistance . . .," op. cit., note 8.

[11] Department of Energy, "Congressional Budget Request," pg. 516-517, op. cit., note 9.

[12] Ibid., pg. 515.

[13] Ibid., pg. 517-518.

[14] Amy Woolf, "Nonproliferation and Threat Reduction Assistance . . .," op. cit., note 8.

[15] Ibid.

[16] White House Office of the Press Secretary, "US-Russia Joint Fact Sheet: Bratislava Initiatives," 24 February 2005, accessed at:

[17] Department of Energy, "Congressional Budget Request," pg. 515-517, op. cit., note 9.

[18] Matthew Bunn and Anthony Wier, Securing the Bomb 2006 (Washington: Nuclear Threat Initiative and Harvard University: July 2006).

[19] Defense Threat Reduction Agency, "Cooperative Threat Reduction: Programs," accessed at:

[20] Matthew Bunn and Anthony Wier, Securing the Bomb 2006, op. cit., note 20.

[21] Federation of American Scientists, "Nuclear Weapons Design," op. cit., note 2.

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Last Updated on May 30, 2007