Technology & Trade

The Role Industry Can Play on Nuclear Security

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By Rose Morrissy: 

Recent terror attacks in France, Belgium, Turkey, and beyond, highlight the urgent need to prevent nuclear materials from falling into the wrong hands — and to protect nuclear facilities. Concern was heightened with recent reports of ISIL surveillance of a senior Belgian nuclear official. To address this very serious issue, the Nuclear Security Summit has been held every two years since 2010 — with industry and the nongovernmental community convening side events alongside it. The summit concluded April 1 in Washington, D.C., and succeeded in generating interest and providing a platform for a serious nuclear security discussion that included government, industry, and civil society stakeholders.

But the conclusion of the summits does not mean nuclear security issues are resolved — or even that a realistic framework has been developed to address these issues in a significant way. Many challenges remain. Fortunately, meaningful commitments — notably from international organizations and industry — have been made to continue the work.

Five intergovernmental organizations (Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction, International Atomic Energy Agency, INTERPOL, and the United Nations) have Action Plans to continue advancing nuclear security development. These Action Plans include activities such as information sharing, increasing implementation efforts of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540 (2004), and coordinating programs aimed at the development of a sound nuclear security culture.

However, establishing an effective nuclear security regime will require any and all related actors to prioritize security. Governmental agencies and intergovernmental organizations are often weighed down by bureaucracies that ensure consensus. Industry has the agility required to charter real change, while NGOs can provide neutral, third-party support and facilitate dialogue with civil society. Concerted action by all actors will be needed to overcome security gaps.

One major step to increase nuclear security is through the development of comprehensive standards. Indeed some country “gift baskets” at the summit have pointed in this direction by asking to identify and share best practices. Industry should build on this to develop third-party-verifiable standards in selected areas of high risk, such as cybersecurity and insider threats. This would amount to a major step forward in establishing a sustainable nuclear security regime.

The IAEA has helped develop baseline safety standards and security guidelines. However, these have been developed with limited industry input and are non-binding. While the IAEA is an important actor in the nuclear security discussion, it is historically slow to act in a fast-paced world. For example, it published its guidance on insider threats in 2008 and has been trying to update it since 2014. With industry championing the development of standards, they can be developed more rapidly.

To have effective international security standards, all nuclear stakeholders must be included in their discussion and development. This includes financiers, exporters, operators, regulators, insurers — anyone involved in the nuclear industry who can benefit from standards and provide benefits to operators for compliance. For example, nuclear financiers might give loan preferences tied to specific safety and security standards that operators could voluntarily adopt. The International Framework for Nuclear Energy Cooperation (IFNEC) and the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) are co-sponsoring a Nuclear Finance Conference in Paris this coming May. The conference will focus on significant challenges in nuclear financing and will bring together a wide variety of nuclear industry players to ensure valuable and practical solutions are developed. IFNEC should make sure the concept of developing third-party verifiable standards in critical areas of nuclear risk is discussed.

Much good came from the summits. The official joint industry statement specifically recognizes the role that the World Institute for Nuclear Security, World Nuclear Association and others could have in facilitating the exchange of best practices and general security training. The statement stresses the importance of security culture and discusses “workplace incentives for nuclear security excellence and ensuring oversight and accountability.” It also recognizes the need to engage the World Association of Nuclear Operators to ensure safety and security are both supported. These are important statements, but they must be followed up by real action initiated by industry.

The development of international standards — developed with industry leadership — would be a major step forward in building on the momentum from the Nuclear Security Summit.
Rose Morrissy is an intern with the Managing Across Boundaries initiative at the Stimson Center.

Photo credit: U.S. Government Work via Flickr
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