The long awaited Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials (CPPNM) entered into force on 8 May 2016. The tension between State sovereignty and the need for clear international guidance and standards has made the nuclear security journey a long one that still continues. The Amendment, in codifying a set of core nuclear security objectives and principles, strengthens nuclear security by extending the Convention beyond nuclear materials in transit and building additional (and much-needed) international norms for protection of nuclear material and facilities. However, the Amendment’s provisions are broad, with few specifics. The vague treaty language qualifies the requirements in that physical protection measures are applied only “insofar as reasonable and practicable”. While this provides States with flexibility in implementing their physical protection regimes, it leaves many issues open for later interpretation.
States are expected to interpret the Convention requirements and as necessary enact in their domestic context the primarily legislative and administrative requirements of the Amendment and its principles. Industry will be important to satisfying these requirements, especially because the Amendment states, “The prime responsibility for the implementation of physical protection of nuclear material or of nuclear facilities rests with the holders of the relevant licenses or of other authorizing documents (e.g., operators or shippers)”. This means industry will be called on to enact the relevant principles, which have been further detailed in International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) guidance. Industry can either be passive and react to regulatory developments, or take the initiative to help establish cost-effective approaches to evidence compliance with the Convention and its amendments.
The nuclear industry has already shown its interest in international harmonization and has demonstrated strong leadership in many areas, including safety. It should now take the opportunity to do so more strongly in security. Only the World Institute for Nuclear Security (WINS) has developed specific guidance on nuclear security management practices that have been developed with active industry input. The announcement in September 2016 that industry was establishing a senior level Nuclear Industry Steering Group on Security (NISGS) was a clear indication that industry now intends to address important security issues. The IAEA and States should welcome this and partner with industry to address nuclear risks as an integrated whole encompassing security, safety, and other risk areas.
The occasion of the Amendment coming into force represents a significant opportunity in this post-Nuclear Security/Industry-Summit era for industry to create a forum for stakeholder collaboration and for helping to define what is reasonable and practicable for the operators and shippers who are responsible for implementing the requirements. Mechanisms for continuous review to update interpretations are also needed because what appears to be reasonable and practicable today may change in five to ten years. Furthermore, requirements that are poorly developed and applied could have a detrimental impact on the nuclear sector and its contribution to global efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and mitigate climate change.