Nonproliferation
Project Note

Nuclear Security News and Member Updates Roundup, October 2021

In October, vaccine mandates raise concerns over US nuclear security, a Japanese nuclear reactor is suspended over counter-terrorism concerns

Dear INSF Members,

This past month, the INSF arranged for some of its members to meet with International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi after an interview he conducted at the Stimson Center (key nuclear security quotes from that interview below). During the meeting, we discussed the role of NGOs in supporting the upcoming review conference for the amended Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, radiological security, and non-traditional partnerships. NGOs often need to remind governments and international organizations of our contributions. This was exactly the kind of conversation I would want officials to think of when considering our legitimacy. It was a proud moment for our network.

Best,
Nick

Join the conversation on Twitter: @INS_Forum

Updates

On October 21, 2021, members of the International Nuclear Security Forum Advisory Board had the opportunity to represent civil society at a closed meeting with IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi where they discussed issues related to nuclear security.

The International Nuclear Security Forum published a country update for the United Kingdom, written by Kings College Professor Christopher Hobbs. These updates are an opportunity for experts to highlight lessons learned from how nuclear security is implemented in their countries. Read the policy memo.

Nuclear Security News

International Architecture

  • The 25th Anniversary of the IAEA Department of Nuclear Safety and Security: Continuing to Support Member States: “The Department not only establishes safety standards and security guidance documents but also promotes its application through peer review and advisory services. It conducts 17 different peer review missions. The IAEA has conducted and implemented more than 1200 nuclear safety and security missions of various kinds. These missions have contributed to enhancing and implementing the high levels of nuclear safety and security and to establish effective legal and regulatory systems worldwide.”
  • Now Available: IAEA Guidance on Computer Security for Nuclear Security: “The new publication highlights the need for and provides guidance on how to implement computer security as an integral component of a national nuclear security regime. The guidance supports the development and implementation of an integrated national strategy, regulatory approach, and adherent computer security programs designed to protect computer-based systems, the compromise of which could adversely affect nuclear security or nuclear safety.”
  • IAEA Collaborating on Notification System to Protect Nuclear Installations from Natural Hazards: “With little or no warning, nuclear installations around the world could be exposed to natural hazards, from floods and earthquakes to volcanic eruptions, wildfires, and more. To assist nuclear power plants, research reactors and other facilities handling nuclear material in response to these adverse external events, the IAEA is developing a system that will alert the Agency of such events that could potentially affect nuclear sites.”
  • IAEA Launches a New Series of Topical Webinars on Nuclear Law: “The series, which is being implemented within the framework of the IAEA Legislative Assistance Programme, will also benefit countries in the process of strengthening their existing national nuclear legislative frameworks. The assistance programme creates awareness among IAEA Member States of the international instruments in the nuclear field and assists them in complying with their international obligations and commitments, as well as with the drafting of corresponding national nuclear legislation.”

Weapons, Materials, and Facilities

  • Savannah River Area House Members Question Granholm About Impact of Vax Order: “Four Republicans in the House of Representatives want Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm to examine the potential “unintended impacts” of staff losses at the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina, where some employees plan to leave the site rather than get a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination. The GOP House members question if the job losses will affect ‘our nation’s nuclear security and readiness.’”
  • Reactor at Japan’s Nuclear Power Plant Suspended Over Counter-Terrorism Demands: Reports: “The third reactor at Japan’s Mihama nuclear power plant was suspended by the operator that Kansai Electric Power company over the inability to enhance counter-terrorism infrastructure in time… Mihama’s third reactor was stopped for a decade after the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami, which in 2011 claimed over 15,000 lives, displaced thousands of people and caused a meltdown at the power plant”
  • Sister Megan Rice, Fierce Critic of U.S. Nuclear Arsenal, Dies at 91: “Sister Megan Rice, a Roman Catholic nun who was arrested more than 40 times for protesting America’s military industrial complex, most spectacularly for breaking into one of the world’s largest uranium storage sites, died on Oct. 10 … The protest at Y-12… made Sister Rice an international celebrity, and she used the spotlight to bring renewed attention to America’s efforts to modernize its nuclear arsenal. The complex shut down for two weeks, and Sister Rice’s incursion spawned Congressional hearings, where representatives thanked her for calling attention to the site’s poor security.”

HEU Minimization

  • U.S. Advances Nuclear Security Goals: “The U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) took domestic and international strides toward securing and eliminating nuclear materials over the past two months. The NNSA… on Aug. 27 awarded $37 million to the Wisconsin-based company NorthStar Medical Technologies to advance the domestic supply of a vital medical isotope, molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) … In the past, U.S. medical facilities obtained Mo-99 from foreign sources that primarily produced the isotope by way of highly enriched uranium (HEU), which can be used to fuel nuclear weapons and thus presents a nuclear proliferation risk if stolen or diverted.”

Emerging Technologies

  • Nuclear nonproliferation: “The Department of Homeland Security is giving researchers at the University of Michigan $1.9 million to find out what to look for when neutrons slip through the shielding around nuclear contraband and induce nuclear reactions. ‘Protecting our society from the threats of nuclear smuggling is one of our major challenges today,’ said Sara Pozzi, U-M professor of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences, who will lead the research.”
  • Can India Address the Growing Cybersecurity Challenges in the Nuclear Domain?: “Over the years, countries, including India have heavily invested in building robust physical protection mechanisms in the nuclear sector and this has made the likelihood of a cyber or blended attack more likely given the rapid technological advancements in the field… Cyber attacks may result in theft of nuclear/radioactive materials, radiation release due to malicious intent of adversaries, theft of sensitive information about nuclear facilities, reactor designs etc.”

Threats

  • Deepfake Audio Scores $35M in Corporate Heist: “The attack targeted a branch manager with emails that appeared to be from the director and a US-based lawyer, who the emails designated as coordinator of the acquisition. This attack is the latest to use synthetic audio created using machine-learning algorithms, known as neural networks, to mimic the voice of a person known to the targeted employee. For that reason, deepfake audio and synthesized voices will likely become part of cybercriminals’ techniques in the future.”
  • NNSA to Conduct Aerial Radiation Assessment Survey over Boston Marathon Race Route Oct. 8-11: “NNSA’s Nuclear Emergency Support Team (NEST) aircraft will measure naturally occurring background radiation as part of standard preparations to protect public health and safety on the day of the event. The aerial surveys are in support of the 2021 Boston Marathon… These surveys are a normal part of security and emergency preparedness activities.”
  • Former U.S. Navy engineer, wife face judge in submarine espionage case: “A former U.S. Navy nuclear engineer and his wife on Tuesday faced their first court hearing on charges they attempted to sell secrets about nuclear submarines to a foreign power in exchange for cryptocurrency… Toebbe, with the aid of his 45-year-old wife, allegedly sold secrets to an undercover FBI agent posing as a foreign official over the course of several months, the Justice Department said.”
  • Climate change inaction jeopardizes Energy Department facilities, says new report: “Nuclear security work — on the atomic arsenal, for example — is ‘largely conducted at DOE sites that are vulnerable to extreme weather conditions and climate events,’ the report reads, and remediation efforts could be disrupted if facilities dedicated to processing radioactive wastes ‘are impacted by climate hazards or if groundwater remediation systems are impacted by droughts.’”

Opinion and Analysis

  • With Naming of a New Atomic Chief, Is a Nuclear Taliban Possible?: “The new Taliban-led administration in Afghanistan has inherited an entire nation to run, and with it a wide range of responsibilities, one of them being a fledgling peaceful nuclear agency established a decade ago under the previous government. With the naming of a new atomic chief, the Taliban appears poised to press forward in this field. Officially, no policy to this end appears to have been adopted, nor has the Taliban ruled out such an outcome.”

Member Organization Announcements and Updates

Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation

  • Sam Hickey authored an op-ed for The Hill on September 29, 2021, entitled, “Congress’s role in the AUKUS nuclear-powered submarine deal.” Read the article.  
  • On October 11, 2021, Sam Hickey published “Preventing an Accidental Nuclear Crisis in Iran and Beyond” for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. Read the article.

CRDF Global

  • CRDF Global is collaborating with the Stimson Center’s South Asian Voices (SAV) platform on a nuclear security publication series. Articles for the series, written by recipients of the CRDF-SAV research grant in nuclear security, cover topics ranging from cyber security at civilian nuclear energy sites, regional and international cooperation in South Asia, to personnel protection at nuclear sites, and other topics related to nuclear security on the subcontinent.
  • Pulkit Mohan’s piece, “Can India Address the Growing Cybersecurity Challenges in the Nuclear Domain?” Read the article.
  • Sitara Noor authored “Assessing Pakistan’s Nuclear Security Upgrades after ratification of the 2005 CPPNM Amendment.” Read the article.
  • Chirayu Thakkar’s article, “Rethinking Nuclear Security: The Case for an Elite Nuclear Force in India.” Read the article.

The Stimson Center

  • Stimson Center President Brian Finlay interviewed IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi on October 21, 2021, where they discussed nuclear nonproliferation, nuclear security, and the impact of COVID-19. Watch the interview.

Nuclear Security quotes from the interview:

“I don’t have opinions on military programs or geostrategic approaches, but I have one beacon that guides me: nonproliferation. We have to tackle a very meticulous effort of reconciling the commitments we have in terms of nonproliferation with the activities they [AUKUS signatories] are going to have.” 

“The success of the CPPNM Review Conference is assured, but I think we have to look beyond that. We have a process that is worth supporting, we have an agenda that has been agreed, and an amendment that has been entered into force. Beyond that, making sure we look at the full spectrum of problems we have – including cyber security – will be important.” 

“What I see, very frequently, when it comes to the gender discussion is a lot of ‘blah blah.’ That irritates me and I feel one has to demonstrate with actions what they mean.” 

“Nuclear security, like nuclear safety, is a constant. You can never throw in the towel or relax.” 

Nuclear Threat Initiative

  • Throughout 2021, NTI has hosted a series of regional workshops on preparations for the 2022 review conference of the amended Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials.  These workshops help familiarize participants with aspects of the review, identify common challenges and priorities within the reason, and share good practices in implementation. There were two regional events in October. From 12-14 October, NTI held a workshop with countries from the Asia Pacific Region, and from 25-27 October NTI held a workshop with countries from the Middle East and Central Asia.
  • On October 13, 2021, NTI hosted an online event entitled “Preventing a Dirty Bomb: Alternative Technologies to Radioactive Sources.” The webinar featured speakers from the National Academy of Sciences, the government of Switzerland, the NNSA, and the Government Accountability Office that shared their research and experiences with using alternative technologies. Watch the event recording.  
  • On November 9, 2021, at 11:00 ET NTI will host a webinar with a panel of global experts about some of the IAEA Information Circulars (INFCIRCs) focused on strengthening nuclear security.

Project on Managing the Atom, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

  • INSF Advisory Board member Matthew Bunn is a member of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s ad hoc committee of experts working to examine whether a risk assessment framework can be applied to determine the potential risks of nuclear terrorism and nuclear war; and to examine assumptions in nuclear policy and doctrine and their implications on national security.  If INSF members are aware of particularly important or insightful assessments of the danger of nuclear terrorism, or methods for assessing aspects of that danger, please share them with Matthew. Learn more about the project.
  • On September 13, 2021, Matthew Bunn gave a presentation entitled, “The Evolving Global Threat to Nuclear and Radiological Transports,” to the Transport Security Unified Stakeholders Group. View the presentation.

University of South Africa, Department of Political Sciences

  • On October 22, 2021, Professor Jo-Ansie van Wyk gave a presentation, “Nuclear disarmament: Status and challenges,” as part of a scientific webinar on Nuclear Disarmament, Non-Proliferation & Safe and Secure Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy in Africa organized by the African Commission on Nuclear Energy (AFCONE) in conjunction with the 5th Conference of State Parties to the African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty (Pelindaba Treaty).

World Institute of Nuclear Security

  • WINS has an upcoming webinar series titled, “Nuclear Security Threats in Conversation with Industry Experts” to be held on November 11- 25, 2021. Learn more.

World Nuclear Industry Status Report

  • On October 6, 2021, the University of British Columbia ran a webinar entitled “Nuclear Power and Climate Change: Can Small Modular Reactors Deliver?” with a focus on small modular reactors (SMRs), their status in Canada, and drawing on the 2021 World Nuclear Industry Status Report. Featured panelists included Mycle Schneider, Convening Lead Author of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report; M.V. Ramana, Professor and Simons Chair in Disarmament, Global and Human Security, School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, UBC; and Ali Ahmad, Research Fellow, Project on Managing the Atom and International Security Program, Harvard Kennedy School. The event was moderated by former Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chair Allison Macfarlane. Watch the event.
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