Nonproliferation
Project Note

Nuclear Security News and Member Updates Roundup, October 2020

Despite the global pandemic impacting every industry and political turmoil impacting most people on earth, nuclear security progress continued in October

Dear International Nuclear Security Forum Members,

Despite the global pandemic impacting every industry and political turmoil impacting most people on earth, nuclear security progress continued in October. The United States advanced bilateral nuclear security cooperation with partner countries. Russia worked with the International Atomic Energy Agency on a nuclear security initiative. African regulators met to discuss, among other things, nuclear security. At least one facility with weapons-useable nuclear material held a large-scale emergency exercise. 

Meanwhile, there were nuclear and non-nuclear security incidents demonstrating the critical importance of strengthening security at nuclear facilities. There were also several important civil society publications and events aimed at furthering that goal. 

As we mentioned, this News Roundup, like many great cathedrals, is a work in progress. We encourage you to send feedback so we can keep improving. We also encourage you to keep sending your own news that we can amplify. In the coming days, we will be going live with our new website and beginning to announce events. So, stay tuned! As always, feel free to reach out with questions, comments, and/or critiques. 

We would like to thank Brendan Hyatt for his work on compiling the October newsletter.

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

Best,

Nickolas Roth and Becca Earnhardt, International Nuclear Security Forum

Membership Events, Activities, and Resources

Organization updates:

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

  • CSSS held a discussion focused on the impact of COVID-19 and its global effect on nuclear security. Watch a full video of the event here
  • CSSS also debuted a Nuclear Security Risk Management Framework on YouTube. The framework emphasizes nuclear security as a key component at each stage of the Enterprise Risk Management methodology. 

 Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation (VCDNP)

  • “The VCDNP held its 19th intensive short course on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament from September 19 to October 2, 2020. The VCDNP welcomed 11 diplomats and officials posted in Vienna and representing 11 different countries from four of the five UN Regional Groups.” Lectures included nuclear security and the prevention of nuclear terrorism. Read more about the course.

Nuclear Threat Initiative

Reports and Articles:

World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2020

  • “The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2020 assesses…the status and trends of the international nuclear industry and analyzes the additional challenges nuclear power is facing in the age of COVID-19.” The authors found that “the number of operating reactors in the world has dropped by nine over the past year to 408 as of mid-2020, that is below the level already reached in 1988, and 30 units away from the historic peak 438 in 2002. Download the report here.

“Death Dust: The Little-Known Story of U.S. and Soviet Pursuit of Radiological Weapons,” by Samuel MeyerSarah Bidgood and William C. Potter

  • “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.

“Redefining Insider Threats: A Distinction between Insider Hazards and Insider Threats,” by Mathias Reveraert and Tom Sauer

  • “This article suggests a new definition of insiders and insider threats. It refrains from applying a harm-oriented perspective that concentrates on the insider’s intention to cause harm because it defines the insider threat either too narrow or too broad. Instead, a privilege-oriented perspective is applied that focuses on the insider’s intention to misuse his privileged access to or knowledge about the organizational assets.” Read the article here.

“Risk-Based Approach in the Self-Assessment of Nuclear Security Culture for Users of Radioactive Sources,” by Igor Khripunov

  • This article presents a “risk-based approach [that] can facilitate a more robust and sustainable security regime for radioactive sources throughout their life cycle, i.e. from cradle to grave.” Read the article here.

Member Notes:

By Dr. Arslan Chikhaoui, Executive Chairman of the Consultancy and Studies Center (NSV) Algeria: Nuclear Security (1.11.2020)

Algerian Energy Minister, Abdelmadjid Attar, stated on 4 October 2020 that Algeria is highly concerned about the issue of the physical protection of nuclear installations and the security of radioactive sources. To this end, he encouraged the national atomic energy agency (Comena) to carry out training actions in the field of nuclear security to the attention of organizations and operators concerned at national level and also to contribute to the activities of nuclear security centers international network and whose efforts are supported by the Algerian Government. The Minister of Energy also recalled that the country has facilities, laboratories and personnel who operate in a field where nuclear radiation is present, stressing the need to raise awareness and educate all personnel operating in these facilities or near radiation sources. He thus highlighted that Algeria has ratified all the international legal instruments relating to nuclear security and marked its adhesion to the implementation mechanisms, by signing with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) the Integrated Nuclear Security Support Plan (INSSP).

Global Governance of Nuclear Security

  • International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi predicts that a dozen new countries will start building nuclear power plants by 2030, in contrast to the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2020. Director General Grossi noted that Bangladesh, Belarus, Egypt, Ghana, the Philippines and Uzbekistan are nuclear newcomers. Uzbekistan and the Philippines, as noted below, are “seriously considering” using nuclear power. Reinforcing Director General Grossi’s statements, International Energy Agency Executive Director Fatih Birol and Director General Grossi published an op-ed arguing that mounting demand for low-carbon electricity generation necessitates continued investment in nuclear power. They emphasize preservation of existing reactor fleets, construction of new plants with superior operational and safety features, and innovation in technologies like small modular reactors and advanced large reactors. Read commentary here from World Nuclear News.
  • In support of regional nuclear security capacity building, the IAEA and the Atomic Energy Licensing Board of Malaysia have established a pool of radiation detection equipment available for loan, backed by financial contributions from Japan, to support nuclear security training and detection capabilities at major public events in Asia and the Pacific. This is the first nuclear security equipment repository facilitated by the IAEA and a sign of further regional cooperation.
  • The Forum of Nuclear Regulatory Bodies in Africa (FNRBA) held its annual meeting virtually with 33 participating African countries. Speakers at the event agreed that “enhancing collaboration both within and between countries in Africa in nuclear safety and security is key to strong, sustainable regulation on the continent.” The 2020-2021 FNRBA action plan made recommendations for cooperating in “legislative and regulatory infrastructureradiation and waste safety, nuclear safety infrastructure, regulatory Infrastructure for emergency preparedness and response, safety in the transport of radioactive material and nuclear security infrastructure.”
  • Training also featured prominently in October nuclear news. Rosatom Technical Academy has become the first IAEA Collaborating Center to extend its work into three programmatic areas: nuclear science, nuclear security, and nuclear energy. Last year, Rosatom developed Russian language training materials based on the IAEA Nuclear Security Series and used them to host an IAEA Regional School on Nuclear Security last June.

Reducing the Number of Sites

  • IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi stated that Iran does not have enough HEU to make a nuclear bomb. Grossi did state that “the Iranians [have continued] to enrich uranium, and to a much higher degree than they have committed themselves to.” 

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

  • An Observer Research Foundation (ORF) Issue Brief, titled “Ensuring Cyber Security in India’s Nuclear Systems,” takes lessons from experiences like the September 2019 cyber-attack on India’s Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant. It draws upon American, Japanese, and British cybersecurity policies in building a framework for a more effective and transparent cyber-nuclear security policy. 
  • The Y-12 National Security Complex conducted its first full-scale emergency exercise since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The exercise integrated the risk of possible COVID-19 exposure. Approximately 290 personnel were directly involved in the exercise as responders and exercise control personnel. Independent observers from the Department of Energy’s Office of Enterprise Assessments agreed that “Y-12 can effectively respond to an Operational Emergency while operating under COVID-19 pandemic protocols.”
  • In the U.S., the NNSA Administrator Lisa Gordon-Hagerty completed a four-month tour of all NNSA facilities to ensure that operations are proceeding correctly, ending with visiting the Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas and the Kansas City National Security Campus.  In an 8-minute audio clip, Administrator Gordon-Hagerty described how the NNSA has been adapting to COVID-19.
  • Romania and the United States agreed to a draft deal that would include support for construction of two civilian nuclear reactors. The two governments also signed a 10-year “Roadmap for Defense Cooperation,” under which the United States will share technical, regulatory, safety, and nuclear security expertise. 
  • After signing a bilateral agreement in September with Kazakhstan on the minimization of highly-enriched uranium (HEU), the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Office took further steps to strengthen nuclear security by transferring “watchtowers, vehicles, snowmobiles, quadricycles, radios, satellite phones, tactical equipment and training gear” to the Kazakh National Guard Unit at Kurchatov. The Kazakhstan National Guard will use the equipment at the Semipalatinsk Test Site and nuclear reactor complexes.
  • The United States and Poland agreed to a deal that will facilitate the construction of a nuclear power plant in Poland using $18 billion worth of American technology and services from a U.S. company. This move is part of Poland’s broader nuclear policy for 2040, which will spend $40 billion to construct six nuclear plants.
  • The United States and Canada have signed a memorandum of understanding to enable more effective cooperation in nuclear security and safety. “The agreement includes the sharing of knowledge and information, including cross-training, workshops, and exercises, as well as collaboration on research and development.” 
  • The United States also focused on strengthening nuclear security cooperation through high-level dialogues. U.S. and South Korea officials met to discuss their nuclear security partnership, discussing a variety of nuclear security and nonproliferation topics. Deputy Energy Secretary Mark Menezes and Second Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Lee Tae-ho notably agreed that the United States and Republic of Korea should collaborate to “promote joint U.S.-ROK civil nuclear commercial partnerships.” 
  • The U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) and Rosatom have finalized their agreement to extend the Agreement Suspending the Antidumping Investigation on Uranium from the Russian Federation to 2040. “In May 2020, a bipartisan group of US Senators called for the Department of Commerce to extend the Russian Suspension Agreement, as recommended by the Nuclear Fuel Working Group. In their letter, the senators called for DOC to reduce imports of Russian uranium to below existing limits, which they said will protect the U.S. natural uranium fuel supply chain from “aggressive and illegal trade practices of nuclear state-owned enterprises of foreign adversaries.”

Emerging Technologies

  • A recent technological breakthrough could prove to be a central tool for inspection procedures. A Wired article describes neutrino detectors’ potential as tools for nuclear security, drawing heavily from a peer-reviewed article published in March 2020. It describes how precise neutrino detectors could be used to augment the IAEA’s inspection/measurement system. The tech “isn’t quite ready for prime time,” but small steps are being made towards long-term implementation. 
  • Sandia National Laboratories conducted a full-scale crash test of a new nuclear weapons transporter. “Currently, NNSA moves nuclear weapons from one place to another via convoys of 18-wheel trucks towing sophisticated trailers. The Replacement Armored Tractor and Safeguards (RATS) Transporter is typically accompanied by specialized escort vehicles during transport missions, with the convoy location and status monitored all the time throughout the year.” The Mobile Guardian Transporter will replace the RATS and Safeguards transporter.

Threats

  • In Singapore, 11 men, including the founder of one of Singapore’s largest marine fuel suppliers, have been charged for their involvement in a large-scale oil heist that occurred gradually over several years. Through various insiders, about $150 million of oil was stolen over several years from the refinery and sold in Asian black markets. While details continue to emerge, lessons can be learned from the high level of operational capability required to carry out such a crime. For example, this case demonstrates the co-opting insiders through financial incentives, illustrating that ideological motivations are not necessary for sustained pursuit of a goal.
  • In New York City, a man named David Lacarriere and two other co-defendants were indicted on 22-counts for one of the largest heists in J.F.K. International Airport’s history. As the reporter described, “[Lacarriere] walked into an office at Kennedy International Airport with paperwork that showed the flight information and serial numbers he needed to pick up an expensive shipment.” In all, “[p]rosecutors said they stole $804,000 worth of Prada merchandise in January, and then in May, they hauled off $5.3 million in other high-end accessories, from Gucci sneakers and socks to Chanel espadrilles, necklaces and handbags.” The co-defendants used forged documentation during both heists, resulting in J.F.K. International Airport enacting enhanced security procedures for cargo shipments, including taking photographs of truck drivers and other undisclosed enhanced identification procedures.
  • The U.S. Department of Energy announced an investigation at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque where “unauthorized electronic equipment (Panasonic pan-tilt-zoom cameras)” were installed in “security areas for over two years.” The investigation seeks to uncover the facts and circumstances of possible “unauthorized disclosure of classified information.”
  • The U.S. Department of Justice issued a press release stating that “the former president of Transport Logistics International Inc. (TLI), a Maryland-based transportation company that provides services for the transportation of nuclear materials to customers in the United States and abroad, was sentenced today to 48 months in prison and three years of supervised release for his role in a scheme to bribe a Russian official [Vadim Mikerin, a Russian official at JSC Techsnabexport (TENEX)] [over the course of seven years] in exchange for obtaining contracts for the company.” This kind of corruption undermines nuclear security culture within institutions responsible for nuclear material and technology.

 Non-state actors also made headlines this month.

  • A Foreign Affairs article described the “extraordinary resilience” the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has displayed in the face of its near destruction in the last four years. It analyzes militant group behavior over 70 years, noting that groups developed broad networks and alliances based upon ideology, allowing them to continue operations despite difficult circumstances. 
  • A Foreign Policy retrospective on “bottom-up Islamism” claims that the “era of Islamic insurgency in the middle east has passed.” 
  • Finally, a report from the International Politics and Society Journal discussed the rise of American right-wing paramilitary groups, including the increasingly prominent Boojhadeen. These groups contain accelerationist, pro-civil war extremists, some of whom are “willing to do everything possible to bring (a civil war) on by force.”
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