Report Recommends Seven Urgent Steps to Reduce Terrorist Threat from Nuclear Weapons and Materials

Contact: Anya Schmemann
Phone: 617-495-9858
Contact Organization: Nuclear Threat Initiative
Date: May 20, 2002

In a new report, Harvard experts outline seven immediate steps that should be taken to keep nuclear weapons and their essential ingredients out of terrorist hands for action at the upcoming Bush-Putin summit and beyond. The report – "Securing Nuclear Weapons and Materials: Seven Steps for Immediate Action" – warns that even after September 11, the size and speed of the U.S. and global response to the threat of nuclear terrorism are not remotely commensurate with the threat.
"The danger that terrorists could acquire and use a nuclear bomb is very real," said John P. Holdren, Theresa and John Heinz Professor of Environmental Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, one of the report’s co-authors. "At their upcoming summit, Presidents Bush and Putin should complement their nuclear arms reduction agreement with an accord to sharply accelerate our countries’ efforts to secure and account for all their stocks of nuclear weapons and materials, and invite other countries to join them in a global coalition to do the same."
"We have the technology to secure and account for all the world's nuclear weapons and potential bomb material, keeping them out of terrorist hands. We need sustained political leadership and resources to get the job done," said co-author Matthew Bunn, a senior researcher in the Kennedy School’s Project on Managing the Atom (MTA), which produced the report with the support of the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI).
The report emphasizes that nuclear weapons and materials are located at hundreds of military and civilian facilities in dozens of countries, with security conditions varying from excellent to appalling, and with no binding global security standards in place. At some facilities, security is provided by no more than a single night watchman and a chain-link fence. As a result, documented thefts of weapons-usable nuclear material continue to occur – such as the seizure of nearly a kilogram of highly enriched uranium in the former Soviet state of Georgia in April 2000. While the United States and Russia are working together to secure and account for Russia’s deadly Cold War nuclear legacies, to date even initial "rapid upgrades" – such as bricking over windows or piling heavy blocks on top of material – have been accomplished for only 40% of the potential bomb material in Russia, and less than one-seventh of Russia’s stockpile of highly enriched uranium has been destroyed. The report calls for a drastic acceleration of these efforts, and outlines means by which that could be accomplished.
"Terrorists are racing to get weapons of mass destruction," said former Senator Sam Nunn, co-chairman of NTI. "We should be racing to stop them. Believing that the recommendations in this report would help get us moving at a pace to win that race, NTI commends this report to policymakers in the United States and Russia. The time to act is now. President Bush and President Putin seem to understand this, but their challenge at this summit is to get their own teams heading in this direction."
Although keeping weapons of mass destruction out of terrorist hands is fundamental to homeland security, and President Bush has said that "our top priority is keeping weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of terrorists," the report documents how U.S. approaches to this goal have changed only modestly since September 11. In stark contrast to homeland security, there is no single official anywhere in the government in charge of these efforts; virtually no substantial new initiatives have been launched; and the roughly $1 billion President Bush has requested for cooperative threat reduction activities – compared to the $38 billion requested for homeland security – is essentially the same as what President Clinton requested long before September 11. "After September 11," the report warns, "‘business as usual’ is simply not good enough."
The report recommends:
1. Forging a Global Coalition to Secure Weapons of Mass Destruction. Presidents Bush and Putin should seek to forge a global coalition to secure stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and their essential ingredients everywhere. Participants would pledge to secure and account for their own stockpiles to stringent standards, cooperate to interdict WMD theft and smuggling, share critical intelligence on these threats, and prepare to respond to WMD threats and attacks.
2. Appointing One U.S. and One Russian Official to Lead the Respective Countries’ Efforts to Secure Nuclear Weapons and Materials. Today, there is no senior official anywhere in the U.S. government with full-time responsibility for leading and coordinating the range of efforts related to securing nuclear weapons and materials. President Bush and President Putin should each appoint senior officials, reporting directly to them, with no other mission.
3. Accelerating and Strengthening Security Upgrades for Warheads and Materials in Russia. The United States and Russia should jointly set a target of accomplishing all "rapid upgrades" of security and accounting for warheads and materials within two years and comprehensive upgrades within four years, and take a series of steps to build an accelerated partnership to achieve that goal.
4. Launching a "Global Cleanout and Secure" Effort to Eliminate or Secure Stockpiles of Weapons-Usable Nuclear Material Worldwide. A new program should be established to provide targeted incentives to facilities worldwide to give up their weapons-usable nuclear materials, and to carry out rapid security and accounting upgrades wherever insecure nuclear materials remain.
5. Leading Toward Stringent Global Nuclear Security Standards. The United States should join with Russia and other like-minded states with substantial nuclear activities in making a politically binding commitment to meet a stringent, agreed standard for security and accounting for all their nuclear material and facilities, military and civilian – and to encourage others to do the same.
6. Accelerating the Blend-Down of Highly Enriched Uranium. The Bush Administration should begin negotiating with Russia an accelerated approach to destroying Russia’s excess bomb uranium, in which tens of tons of additional material would be blended and stored each year, for later sale. Congress should appropriate approximately $50 million to fund the first year’s accelerated blending.
7. Creating New Revenue Streams for Nuclear Security. New revenue streams should be developed that can supplement on-going government expenditures for securing nuclear weapons and materials in the former Soviet Union, such as a "debt for nonproliferation" swap, or a set-aside of revenues from spent fuel imports, if an acceptable approach to such imports moves forward.
The report was co-published and funded by NTI and authored by the Project on Managing the Atom (MTA) based at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. The report is available at
MTA addresses the intersections between nuclear energy, nuclear weapons, and democratic governance in nuclear decision-making. Website: NTI, co-chaired by CNN founder Ted Turner and former Senator Nunn, is a charitable organization working to reduce the global threats from nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. Website:


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