Nonproliferation
Project Note

Nuclear Security News and Member Updates Roundup, February 2021

In February, countries faced numerous nuclear security threats including a cyberattack, material theft, and financial fraud by operators

This past month we saw a demonstration of how the Forum’s impact can be greater than the sum of its parts. Nearly 30 members of the International Nuclear Security Forum signed onto a letter to U.S. officials calling for renewed U.S. leadership in strengthening international nuclear security.

Read more about this month’s nuclear security news and INSF member updates.

Join the conversation on Twitter: @INS_Forum

Nuclear Security News

Reducing the Number of Sites

The only uranium enrichment facility in the United states is preparing to resume operations by 2023 in response to market changes. The Metropolis Works Plant closed in 2017 due to low uranium hexafluoride (UF6) prices resulting from a global oversupply of UF6.

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has moved forward with a plan to dilute and dispose of plutonium at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico. The NNSA announced that it is drafting an environmental impact statement for the disposal at the New Mexico site. The plutonium will come from Los Alamos and will be shipped to the Savannah River Site (SRS) for dilution before being sent to the WIPP for long term disposal.

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

Belarus

Rancor over the Ostrovets nuclear power plant located in Belarus continued this month as the European Parliament Committee on Industry, Research and Energy adopted a draft resolution, originally proposed by Lithuania, that calls on Belarus to suspend activities at the newly completed power plant until safety regulations can be implemented. The Belarusian operator, Gosatomnadzor, refuted the assertion made by the European Parliament and stated that it follows all relevant International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safety and security standards. The plant has suffered a series of setbacks caused by mishaps during its startup process.

Russia

FSUE Hydrographic Enterprise General Director Alexander Bengert stated that they are actively developing a plan for the construction of five floating nuclear power plants in Russia’s northeast arctic Chukotka region, which, if approved, would begin in 2023. Construction would start in the port of the Chukotka Nagleynyn Cape.

On December 31, a guard at the Leningrad nuclear power plant seized two packets containing a plant-based drug from a cargo truck. The driver’s blood was sampled and indicated drug use.

United States

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is seeking a new contractor to upgrade its central insider threat database and case management system. The Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA) currently operates the Insider Threat Management Analysis Center.

The Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Inspector General (OIG) released two major reports sharply criticizing department operations. First, the OIG released a scathing report stating that the contractor, Triad National Security LLC, in charge of operating Los Alamos National Laboratory failed to properly manage forest lands at the site. This mismanagement increases the risk of devastating forest fire at the nuclear lab. The second OIG report, “identified weaknesses in the Department’s controls over security clearance terminations and badge retrievals for separated employees.” Inspectors found that the DOE did not always terminate or revoke Personal Identity Verification (PIV) badges for separated Federal employees and contractors. DOE policy does not currently assign responsibility and accountability for the access termination process.

The Department of Energy announced that SRS Critical Infrastructure Security LLC won the contract for protecting the SRS. This is a significant change as Centerra had been awarded successive site contracts for nearly 30 years.

Local officials in Oak Ridge, Tennessee are protesting a DOE move to award a contract for enriching uranium to a company based in Erwin, Tennessee, over 160km away. The local officials raised concerns about losing jobs as well as safety concerns arising from moving large amounts of highly enriched uranium (HEU) between the sites. Because the contractor is in Erwin rather than Oak Ridge, HEU will have to be transported thousands of miles on public roads and rails throughout the lifetime of the program.

Crisis and Recovery Operations

Following initial reports that the reactors at Fukushima sustained no damage, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) reported decreasing water levels in reactor vessels one and three. TEPCO reported that it cannot assess the water level in reactor two because the measurement instruments were removed in preparation for removing melted fuel rods. It is believed that the missing water is still within the reactor building.

Emerging Technologies

A full-scale prototype muon tomograph that can peer inside cargo containers has been created by researchers in Italy and the United States. The team led by the University of Catania, combined layers of muon – comparable to an electron – detectors with a specialized reconstruction algorithm to deliver high-resolution 3D images of a small lead block inside a large sensing area. The technology could make it far easier for cargo authorities to stop dangerous nuclear materials from being transported illegally.

The IAEA announced that it has developed instrumentation and methodology for using drones to map radiation levels in the aftermath of a nuclear accident. The IAEA worked with Japan to test the technology under real-world conditions at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

William Magwood, head of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Nuclear Energy Agency, said that nuclear power operators and researchers must adopt digital technology and emerging technologies, while at a Sustainable Nuclear Energy Technology forum. The adoption of emerging technologies provides both costs and risks to the nuclear sector.

Azur Drones has completed a deployment trial at the La Hague nuclear fuel reprocessing plant. The drones were used by security personnel to remotely monitor the site and carry out inspections. The drone design is unique as it requires no direct operator input to fly meaning security guards do not need to be trained or licensed to operate drones as a result. 

Threats

Armenia

Known nuclear material smuggler Garik Dadayan is back in court for a retrial following a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights. The court ruled that Dadayan was deprived of due process because he was not allowed to cross examine his co-conspirators in the 2010 trial on charges related to an attempted smuggling of 18 grams of HEU. Dadayan had previously been caught smuggling HEU in 2003.

Australia

“A $41 million redevelopment of the Royal Australian Mint completed in 2009 left a decade-long security vulnerability that was exploited by an insider and led to thousands of limited-edition coins going to drug traffickers.” “However, The Australian Financial Review can reveal the Mint discovered the coins were ferreted out of the currency manufacturing plant in Canberra due to an oversight in the major refurbishment of the Mint that ran between 2007 and 2009.”

Brazil

The Angra 1 and Angra 2 nuclear power plants located in Brazil suffered a ransomware cyber-attack to administrative systems. It is not known to have damaged operational systems and the reactors are operating as normal. The company has limited access to its administrative system as a protective measure.

Mexico

The Comisión Nacional de Seguridad Nuclear y Salvaguardias (CNSNS) informed the IAEA that a radiography camera containing Iridium-192 was stolen from a vehicle in Salamanca, Guanajuato State on the afternoon of 8 February. The source was safely recovered by the licensee with its shielding intact on February 10 in Sarabia, Guanajuato State, 15km away. A criminal investigation is ongoing, and CNSNS plans to carry out an inspection into the case.

Russia

For the most up to date Russian nuclear security news, follow Russian Nuclear Security here. Analysis by Dmitry Kovechegin. Edited by Alexandra Sitdikova. The following news stories were pulled from Russian Nuclear Security news:

Russian Nuclear Security news reported that a serviceman of the Belarus Ministry of Internal Affairs division that defense Belarusian nuclear power plants completed suicide. Officials report that the serviceman had passed all medical and psychiatric tests prior to being hired. This case highlights potential issues with human reliability programs in Belarus.

The former Director-General and Chief Financial Officer of “Eleron,” a subsidiary of Rosatom, were charged with fraud. The executives would sign fraudulent contracts with seven other companies for deliverables that were never completed, collecting over $2.8 million over four years. Eleron is in charge of developing physical protection systems for nuclear sites and responsible for the maintenance of automated transportation security system used during transportation of Categories I and II nuclear material.

United States

A hacker gained access to the City of Oldsmar water treatment plant computer system and adjusted the sodium hydroxide (NaOH) levels to over one hundred times the normal limit. However, an employee on-site noticed the change and reset the levels before the change occurred. The hacker gained access to the system twice, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. During the first access period employees did not act because it is not unusual for employees to access systems from home using remote software. During the second access period, which lasted around five minutes, the intruder changed the NaOH levels.

The U.S. military also suffered two, unrelated security failures in previous weeks. A man broke into Joint Base Andrews (JBA) and gained access to a C-40B VIP travel aircraft on the flight line before being detained. The man was handed over to Prince George’s County Police. It is unclear how the man entered the base. JBA is home to the VC-25 aircraft — commonly known as Air Force One — that the president uses for air travel. The intruder accessed the military base one day prior to President Biden arriving there to board Air Force One.

10 pounds (4.5 kg) of the high explosive C-4 are missing from the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps base in California. The plastic explosives disappeared during a weeks-long exercise involving thousands of Marines. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) is investigating the disappearance as a crime and has offered a reward for their recovery.

January 6, U.S. Capitol Riots Fallout Continues

Fallout from the January 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection continued in February as the new U.S. Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, ordered a military-wide stand down so that commands can discuss extremism within the ranks. The single day stand down is to occur within each unit at some point within 60 days of the order. The order comes as an National Public Radio investigation found that nearly 15 percent of those criminally charged in connection to the January 6 insurrection were military veterans. Extremist ties are not limited to retired forces: the U.S. Marine Corps said they investigated at least 16 cases of extremist ties within their ranks in the last three years. In addition, the U.S. Navy (USN) is investigating hate symbols aboard their warships after white supremacist graffiti was found aboard the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) — a nuclear powered aircraft carrier, and a noose was found on a black sailor’s berth aboard the guided missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain (CG-57). Both Carl Vinson and Lake Champlain are part of Carrier Strike Group One and are homeported in San Diego.

Domestic security organizations are not immune from employees with extremist ties as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) admitted that Rinaldo Nazzaro, founder of the far-right extremist organization The Base, worked for them in the past. Nazzaro is also alleged to have worked for the U.S. Marine Corps as a contractor in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another man charged in the January 6 insurrection is alleged to have held a top secret clearance since 1979: first with the Navy and later with the FBI, where he worked as a section chief until his retirement in 2010. Officials have not yet confirmed or denied this information.

Next-Generation Nuclear Security

The University of California at Berkeley (UCB) won a $25 million grant from the NNSA to continue leading the Nuclear Science and Security Consortium, creating a pipeline for new talent in STEM fields for the NNSA and other nuclear security and nonproliferation focused careers.

Membership Announcements, Upcoming Events, and Updates

INSF Announcements

Welcome Rhonda Evans to the Advisory Board! Rhonda Evans is the Head of Engagement and Sustainability at the World Institute for Nuclear Security (WINS). She has over 20 years of international and national experience in the field of nuclear security. Before joining WINS in August 2017, she served as a senior nuclear security officer at the IAEA in the Division of Nuclear Security.

Advisory Board Chair Amb. Laura Holgate (ret.) joining the Biden Administration’s National Security Council on Special Assignment: PresidentBiden’s National Security Council has brought on Amb. Laura Holgate (ret.), Vice President for Materials Risk Management, NTI, as a special government employee to lead a 60-day strategic planning process to develop a new initiative to secure, eliminate, and manage risks of terrorist acquisition of nuclear and radiological materials.

Former Advisory Board Member Anthony Weir is joining the Biden Administration’s State Department as Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation.

The INSF has joined the Gender Champions in Nuclear Policy (GCNP) Initiative!
The INSF has made three “SMARTIE” (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely, Inclusive, and Equitable) commitments for 2021:

  1. Ensure that all selection teams and final applicant pools for new positions are diverse on a number of characteristics, including at least one womxn and one BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, Person of Color) on each team/pool.
  2. Make recruitment and retention of womxn (especially from minority + BIPOC communities) to achieve 50% parity in INSF Advisory Board a priority and goal for 2021.
  3. Hold at least one public event in 2021 focused on the role of womxn and BIPOC communities in nuclear security, with a panel that is 60%+ womxn w/ goal of 1-2 speakers from BIPOC communities and audience of 50% womxn.

Insider Threats: On 24 March, 1:00PM-2:00PM (EST), the INSF will host a public webinar on the topic of insider threats. Speakers will discuss how this threat can impact nuclear security and nuclear terrorism risks. Speakers include Dr. Matthew Bunn, Dr. Amy Zegart, and Dr. Scott Sagan. A save-the-date announcement is forthcoming.

Experts urge Biden to restore U.S. leadership in global nuclear security (Reuters): Nuclear security experts signed a letter to the Biden Administration, urging officials to make nuclear security and nuclear terrorism risk reduction a national security priority. Read the full letter here.

Upcoming Events

The Centre for Science and Security Studies at King’s College London is hosting “Nuclear security in times of crisis” – 3 March 2021, 9:00AM-10:00AM (London) – “While the wide-ranging impact of COVID-19 is arguably unique, this is not the first time that the global nuclear industry has had to respond to external crises. Nuclear security experts from the Centre for Science and Security Studies (CSSS) at King’s College London (KCL) and The Stimson Center will present findings from their research into historical cases where external events (political, economic, environmental etc.) have put significant pressure put on nuclear security systems. This event will highlight case studies and lessons learned that are published in the Nuclear Security during Times of Crisis handbook. The panel will identify how organisations adapted measures in the face of significant challenges and extract lessons for the current pandemic and future crises.” Register for the event here.

The Centre for Science and Security Studies at King’s College London is hosting “Nuclear forensics: Meeting nuclear security needs in a time of challenge” – 25 March 2021, 5:00PM-6:00PM (London) – “Over the past 20 years, nuclear forensics has emerged globally as a capability that allows states to effectively prevent and respond to nuclear security incidents. Through the examination and interpretation of data characteristics (or signatures) of nuclear and other radioactive materials, nuclear forensic science is increasingly used by investigators to remedy vulnerabilities and improve the nuclear security regime. The ‘science of signatures’ allows analysts to tell a story that can be applied across the nuclear fuel cycle exploiting persistent diagnostic isotopic, chemical and physical characteristics that can resolve geologic verses anthropogenic origins.” Register for the event here.

Updates

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

On January 28, CSSS hosted a webinar titled “Programmatic Building Blocks for Mitigating the Insider Threat.” “This presentation…describe[d] common features of insider threat programmes and provide practical measures and resources to build a robust programme to effectively deter, detect, respond, and mitigate insider risk in nuclear and radioactive materials facilities.” Featuring Dr. Christine Noonan, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington: Christine’s research focuses on optimizing security programs, including mitigation of insider threats. In this role she leads a group of threat analysts, polygraph examiners, and support specialists who provide expertise in determining the credibility and seriousness of threats to national security assets. View the webinar on the CSSS YouTube channel.

Watch any past CSSS events on their YouTube channel here. To keep up to date on CSSS events and news, please subscribe to their newsletter here.

The Henry L. Stimson Center

The Nuclear Security Program at Stimson is hiring a Summer 2021 intern! If you or anyone you know is interested, feel free to share the link to the application here. Applications close March 12.

The Stimson Center’s Nuclear Safeguards Program released a new working paper, authored by Rowen Price, on spent fuel management and safeguards considerations for emerging/advanced reactors and their associated fuel cycles. The paper includes a discussion of the proliferation challenges in the nuclear fuel cycle’s back-end for these reactors, which have implications for nuclear security as well as nuclear safeguards. Price notes, “While more remote locations and smaller facilities can reduce plant and material access, increasing control over some potential proliferation pathways, there will also be more reactor facilities in disparate locations where there previously were none, introducing new attractive material to would-be bad actors.” You can watch a recording of the launch event here.

Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI)

On February 23, NTI hosted the next installment in the NTI Seminar Series titled “Nuclear in the New Decade: A View from the IAEA Director General,” featuring IAEA Direct General Rafael Mariano Grossi NTI Chief Executive Officer Ernest Moniz, and NTI Vice President of International Fuel Cycle Strategies Corey Hinderstein. During the seminar, Director General Grossi discussed the recent understanding the IAEA negotiated with Iran, including nuclear energy, the importance of nuclear security, and much more. Watch a recording of the event here.

NTI is now hiring interns for the summer of 2021! NTI offers paid internships at $15/hour. Applications are due on 8 March 2021. For more details on the application, including eligibility requirements, please visit this link.

Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation (VCDNP)

On February 17, the VCDNP held a virtual workshop on security challenges related to the nuclear technologies used to diagnose and treat cancer. Cancer treatment technologies that contain Cobalt-60 and Caesium-137 pose a safety and security risk and require cradle-to-grave management. Non-isotopic alternatives, such as linear accelerators and X-rays, do not have the security concerns of radiation sources but have many of the same safety and security related concerns. Some of these alternative technologies also need to be adapted for routine use in developing countries. This workshop promoted dialogue on the challenges to and opportunities for ensuring access to nuclear technology for human health, especially for cancer care. To find more information about the panelists and the outcomes of the workshop, please visit this link.

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