Project Note

Nuclear Security News and Member Updates Roundup, November 2020

With the U.S. presidential election this past month, the incoming administration presents a new opportunity for U.S. nuclear security leadership

Dear International Nuclear Security Forum members, 

The most consequential event impacting nuclear security this past month was the U.S. presidential election. This was a critical moment for the future of international nuclear security efforts. While the Trump administration’s stated policies related to nuclear security were actually quite good, there is no question that U.S. nuclear security leadership has declined in recent years and, as the Nuclear Threat Initiative identified in its 2020 Nuclear Security Index, momentum behind strengthening nuclear security has declined.  The incoming Biden administration presents a new opportunity for U.S. nuclear security leadership. President-elect Biden understands the importance of this issue, stating in 2017, “nuclear weapons—the proliferation of this deadly knowledge to more nations, and the possibility of a terrorist obtaining nuclear materials—remain among our most pressing security challenges.” Some Forum members have already seized upon this opportunity by publishing recommendations for the next administration. 

During the last month of this tumultuous year, there will be several nuclear security NGO events, including the International Nuclear Security Forum’s first event on December 17th. More details on that below. We hope you are all able to virtually attend.  

We are always looking to strengthen the forum and welcome comments and suggestions. Please send us any news, publications, ore events you would like us to include in the future. We would like to thank Brendan Hyatt for his work on compiling the November newsletter. 

We hope you are all staying safe and healthy in these crazy times. 


Nickolas Roth and Becca Earnhardt, International Nuclear Security Forum 

Join the conversation on Twitter: @INS_Forum

Membership Announcements, Upcoming Events, and Updates


  • Welcome Tomás Bieda to the Advisory Board! Tomás is Deputy Director of the Nuclear Energy Division at the Argentina Global Foundation. Mr. Bieda has coordinated most of the nuclear security efforts of Argentina, including oversight of the planning and development of the G20 Nuclear Security System during the Leaders’ Summit. He was also the Response and Mitigation Working Group Chair of the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism and the Working Group C Chair of the IAEA Nuclear Security Support Center Network. He is as a professor at several renowned Argentine universities and has published papers and presented at international conferences in his field of studies. Previously, Mr. Bieda worked in the nuclear field as a senior advisor in foreign relations and nuclear security to the Board of Directors of the Nuclear Regulatory Authority. 
  • International Nuclear Security Forum Launch Event! Please join us for our International Nuclear Security Forum launch event on December 17th, from 11:30AM-1:00PM EST. Hosted by Forum Chair Laura Holgate, Ambassador (ret.), the event will feature Russian nuclear security expert, Dmitry Kovchegin discussing how Russian nuclear security has evolved over the past decade. Following his presentation, we will have an open session for anyone interested. RSVP here

Upcoming Events

  • The Centre for Science and Security Studies at King’s College London is hosting “Combating the Cyber Insider Threat: An IT Perspective” – 10 December 2020, 10:00-11:00AM GMT – This webinar analyzes the case of Chelsea Manning and other notable examples and in doing so, highlights all the security controls that either failed or that were never put in place and that may have prevented leaks from happening. These examples should allow you to examine your own IT security controls and review them in the light of the incidents. Register for the event here.
  • The Nuclear Threat Initiative is hosting “Empowering New Voices: Re-Envisioning Mentorship in the COVID Era” – 10 December 2020, 2:00PM-3:00PM EST – This discussion will serve as an opportunity to explore the qualities of a good mentorship experience, profile many of the exciting mentorship opportunities in our field, and discuss mentorship challenges/opportunities facing marginalized communities, particularly Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities. RSVP here.


Arms Control Association 

  • Thomas Countryman published a book review titled “Nailing the Coffin of Civilian Plutonium,” focusing on Plutonium: How Nuclear Power’s Dream Fuel Became a Nightmare by Frank von Hippel, Masafumi Takubo, and Jungmin Kang. The review describes how, “[t]his “industry” has seen massive investment by private and mostly governmental funds in pursuit of creating the world’s most dangerous material, an investment that has failed to yield a single dollar in returns,” while praising the authors for “[making] a convincing case for the international community to act together to end further production of separated plutonium.” Read the full review here

The Centre of Science and Security Studies at King’s College London 

  • On November 19, the Centre of Science and Security Studies held a webinar titled “Sustaining Nuclear Security at Decommissioning Sites,” where the discussion centered on the specific challenges associated with maintaining security and security culture during the decommissioning process from an all-stakeholder perspective. To watch the recording, click on this link. Visit the event page here. To view any of the Centre of Science and Security Studies previous events, please visit their YouTube channel
  • The Centre of Science and Security Studies debuted their Nuclear Security Culture cards! “They are designed for use by the nuclear industry and other stakeholders to improve individuals’ understanding of the threat to nuclear facilities, encourage best practices in support of effective security implementation and explore the challenges encountered in designing and operating nuclear security systems.” Check out the cards here and purchase them here.
  • King’s College London and Naif Arab University for Security Sciences hosted a two-day workshop on nuclear security education and training, with as many as hosting 115 experts from relevant institutions in the Arab countries and international organizations.. The workshop aimed to improve nuclear security and nuclear counterterrorism education, as well as to facilitate information-exchange and experiences. 
  • The Centre for Science and Security Studies at King’s College London hosted “Delivering Nuclear Security in South Asia During Times of Crisis” this morning, December 2. This event explored how nuclear security, as it relates to the protection of sensitive nuclear assets, can be effectively implemented during times of crisis with a particular focus on challenges caused by COVID-19 in India and Pakistan. When posted, you can watch the recording on their YouTube channel.

The Henry L. Stimson Center 

  • Stimson’s Board of Directors member Kenneth Brill, Ambassador (ret.), published an op-ed arguing that, “there is a new opportunity to address gaps in the nuclear security regime, but it will require a return to active international leadership on nuclear issues by the Biden administration to realize it. Read the full op-ed here
  • For November 9 through the 11, INSF Executive Office Nickolas Roth presented at the Quantification of the Likelihood of an Attack Institute for Nuclear Materials Management Workshop. He discussed “Strengthening Understanding of Nuclear Threats. 

Managing the Atom Project at the Belfer Center 

  • “The Project on Managing the Atom at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center is pleased to welcome Francesca Giovannini as its new Executive Director. With more than a decade-long career in international security, nuclear non-proliferation, and multilateral diplomacy, Dr. Giovannini brings to MTA an exceptional mix of professional skills, robust nuclear expertise, and an extensive network of diplomatic, political and technological partnerships.” Read the full announcement here
  • On October 29, MTA held a panel discussion on racial injustice in the nuclear field. Access a full recording of the event here. Read an accompanying article by Mariana Budjeryn and Togzhan Kassenova titled “Nuclear Shades of Red Racism” here

The Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project  

  • The Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Projectreleased their 2020 annual update. The annual review includes “Ending Weapons-Grade Uranium Use Outside Weapons,” “Sending Weapons-Grade Uranium to the Moon,” “A Wayward Reactor Operator,” “Paul Leventhal Fellowship Program,” and “Plutonium Fuel is Still a Bad Idea.” Read the full newsletter in this email. Please refer to Alan Kuperman’s email from November 26. If you have any questions, please reach out to Alan Kuperman at [email protected].  

Nuclear Threat Initiative 

  • NTI released their “Agenda for the Next Administration: Nuclear Policy” report titled “Reducing Nuclear Risks: An Urgent Agenda for 2021 and Beyond.” The report provides key recommendations on nuclear risk reduction, nonproliferation, and nuclear security. View the full report here  

  • Dmitry Kovchegin’s team published its September-October Russian Nuclear Security Update. The Update includes fascinating details about Russian nuclear security over that period.  

University of Antwerp  

  • Tom Sauer and Mathias Reveraert recently published “A four-part typology to assess organizational and individual security awareness.” “A comparative analysis of the previously underexplored cases of radiological weapons programs in the United States and the Soviet Union illuminates the drivers and limitations of weapons innovation in one specific nuclear sector.” Download the article here

Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation 

  • A recent report by Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-ProliferationSenior Research Associate Ingrid Kirsten titled “The Contribution of Innovative Nuclear Technology to Sustainable Agriculture” looks at nuclear technologies used to irradiate seeds and plant material, as well as related security considerations. You can access the full report here

Did we miss anything? Please email us your update at [email protected]

Nuclear Security News

International Architecture

  • The International Atomic Energy Agency convened a virtual technical meeting of nuclear regulators from 27 countries to share information and to enhance national regulatory frameworks. “At the meeting, participants concluded that regulatory bodies need to “look within.” To this end, the member states stated a commitment to nuclear security cooperation including sharing lessons learned, possible corrective actions, and possible regulatory remedies.
  • The IAEA published The Gate to Africa Exercise Programme: Morocco–Spain Joint Tabletop and Field Exercises on Maritime Security of Radioactive Material in Transport, a report summarizing the technical exercise program of the 2012 Morocco-Spain joint technical seminar on the risk of nuclear terrorism. The tabletop exercise scenario involved, “a radioactive material transport from the port of Algeciras, Spain, to the port of Tanger-Med, Morocco, across the Strait of Gibraltar. In this scenario, a ship, transporting two packages intended for medical application from Algeciras to Tanger-Med, was subject to a hijacking attempt. The scenario assumed that terrorists were already on board the vessel, posing as truck drivers. Radioactive sources of 192Ir and 137Cs were being carried on this ship.”
  • The IAEA launched an updated E-Learning Course on the safe transportation of radioactive material. The content is structured around their“Regulations for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Material” guidance. This iteration of the curriculum is an improved version of 2019 IAEA lectures on the same topic, and “offers various learning paths to accommodate the diverse needs of participants and national regulatory bodies, offering a more focused training and skill building experience in the safe transport of radioactive material.”
  • Top United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi nuclear regulators convened a meeting to strengthen ties and explore collaboration. The meeting was held as part of the 2019 agreement on the Peaceful Use of Nuclear Energy between the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and focused on safety, security, and nonproliferation. The regulators, “agreed to hold topical workshops and form working groups to exchange information and knowledge related to regulatory framework, radiation protection, nuclear safety and security as well as nuclear nonproliferation and emergency preparedness. It also agreed to discuss smart licensing systems and public communications.”
  • Sandia National Laboratories Visiting Scholars Sitakanta Mishra and Happymon Jacob published a technical report titled “Nuclear Security Governance in India: Institutions Instruments and Culture.” This report discusses “the evolution and strengths, as well as weaknesses, of the [India’s] nuclear security institutions, instruments, practices, and culture.” In the spirit of continuous evaluation of nuclear security governance, the authors provide policy recommendations for more transparency in nuclear security culture by demonstrating nuclear security arrangements to the public and for ways in which the international community can foster India’s entrance to export control regimes as part of the larger global nuclear security field.
  • On November 6, National Nuclear Security Administration Administrator Lisa Gordon-Hagerty resigned from her position. The resignation was driven by a year of clashes between Gordon-Hagerty’s office and the Department of Energy, which sought to cut the NNSA’s budget. A Department of Energy press release stated, “Dr. William Bookless, who has been serving as NNSA Principal Deputy Administrator for the last year-and-a-half, is now Acting NNSA Administrator, ensuring the continuity of NNSA’s vital mission to sustain the safety, security and effectiveness of our nuclear deterrent and strengthen our national security.”

Minimizing Material and Sites

  • With the IAEA’s support, Colombia safely moved several disused, sealed, radioactive sources to secure storage facilities. “The sources had been used in cancer treatment but have reached the end of their useful life. Their transfer represents a major milestone in an ongoing project to increase the security of disused sources in the country.

Security for Nuclear Weapons, Weapons-Usable Materials, and Facilities

  • This month, the Japanese nuclear industry experienced difficulties in completing required modifications to outfit plants with an anti-terrorism “backfit” facility to control reactors remotely in the event of a catastrophic attack. The construction of these facilities has strained Japanese utilities, with each facility costing between 50 billion yen (468 million USD) and 120 billion yen. As of November 19, Sendai’s Reactor 1 successfully completed its anti-terrorism facility and has resumed operation.
  • In this National Defense opinion piece, Bill Moon argues that continuing governmental neglect towards the mitigation of low-probability/high-consequence events is dangerous. He raises concern over shrinking funding for threat reduction programs and cautions against overuse of performance-based metrics on prevention programs. Moon writes that “Our focus needs to be on continuously improving the ability to prevent, reduce and mitigate…It’s time to increase global investments in prevention and threat reduction measures.”
  • A U.K. Civil Nuclear Constabulary (the armed police force which protects nuclear sites and materials across the U.K.) officer assigned to the Dounreay Power Development Establishment is suspected of contravening COVID-19 guidance on socialization/house visitation. If found to have contravened guidance by attending a gathering at a house, he faces “robust disciplinary procedures.”  
  • The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency published their Insider Threat Mitigation Guide and Fact Sheets, responding to a steady increase in incidents of insider threats in the last year. The report “brings together planning and preparedness resources from federal and private sector experts into a single format that organizations can use to prepare for and respond to an insider threat.” 
  • According to a report by the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board, the compromise of defense secrets remains a growing problem and the war on terror has limited the Pentagon’s ability to conduct effective counterintelligence. Recommendations include creating, “new methods to make stealing more difficult for those with access to classified information, including behavior analysis of cleared workers and identifying dangerous people; advanced computer network monitoring; and watermarking classified documents, both digital and paper.” The report focuses on two notable cases of failed counterintelligence in 2010 and 2019, where the CIA lost an estimated 27 agents in China because of poor counterintelligence, and where Air Force counterintelligence officer Sgt. Monica Witt defected to Iran. 
  • The Slovakian government is cooperating with private companies to use Mobile Source Transit Security systems to secure radiological sources. The Mobile Source Transit Security system “is comprised of detection devices and radiofrequency tags, and through GPS monitoring allows for constant eyes on the radioactive materials in transit.” Additionally, “[t]he [Mobile Source Transit Security] system is a first line of defense against radiological terrorism and provides real time notification to authorities if the material is tampered with or moved without authorization.”

Emerging Technologies

  • The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission published a memo stating that, despite drone sightings at nuclear facilities, “there are no risk-significant vulnerabilities at nuclear power plants that could be exploited by adversarial use of currently available commercial drones.”  


  • A British TV special was released on the 2000 millennium dome heist, highlighting one of the most bizarre heists in recent history. Gas-mask adorned men smashed into the dome with a bulldozer. The men, who intended to steal 300 million USD in diamonds, were foiled by police before they could attempt to escape via a speedboat.
  • A judge sentenced two of the seven catholic anti-nuclear activists who broke into a Georgia nuclear naval base in 2018 to prison terms. The group, known as the Plowshares Seven, cut through chain link wire to gain access to the facility, where they strung up crime scene tape and banners with anti-nuclear slogans.  
  • A former casino/armored car guard robbed his ex-employer for 1.7 million USD. The guard familiarized himself with armored cars’ security vulnerabilities and procedures while employed and used his knowledge to successfully execute a broad-daylight heist. His success illustrates how valuable insider knowledge can be in exploiting security systems’ vulnerabilities.  
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