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Plenary Address to the Institute of Nuclear Materials Management 2008 Conference

July 14, 2008

Plenary Address to the Institute of Nuclear Materials Management 2008 ConferencePresented by William Tobey, Deputy Administrator, NNSA


President Nancy Jo Nicholas, Vice President Steve Ortiz, ladies and gentlemen, congratulations on your 50th anniversary.  I am honored to speak today to the Institute of Nuclear Materials Management, whose members include the foremost nuclear safeguards and security experts in the world.

The broad composition of this conference—over 900 attendees—demonstrates the global imperative of ensuring adequate nuclear security.  I am particularly glad to see so many students here.  As the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation, I am charged with leading NNSA’s efforts to reduce the global dangers of nuclear proliferation.  This complements NNSA’s mission to maintain the United States nuclear weapons stockpile.  We take nuclear security very seriously; it is, after all, our middle name.

As my distinguished colleague David Waller noted, nuclear security is both a national and a global responsibility.   I will focus my remarks on the national roles and responsibilities in global nuclear security, and how our sense of urgency has driven us to accelerate our efforts.

Today’s Challenges and Tomorrow’s Opportunities

We are all familiar with the forecasts regarding a changing international security environment and the nuclear security challenges that complicate it:  Globalization, the rise of terrorism, the global nuclear energy renaissance, the challenges posed by Iran, North Korea, and now Syria, illicit procurement and trafficking, and even the recently publicized U.S. security and accounting incidents.   These factors underscore the urgency of our shared mission.

Credible estimates of the expansion of nuclear power suggest that the institutions and arrangements we have built to manage global nuclear security will come under increasing strain.

Additionally, the cadre of expertise to support these institutions and arrangements is shrinking.  Fewer experts with technical experience are entering the field, and those in the field are retiring more quickly than they can be replaced.  We have recognized this in our own laboratory system, but it is not unique to the United States.

Finally, nuclear security tools, particularly those related to nuclear safeguards and security, are based on technologies developed decades ago.  The current technology pipeline is too small and too inflexible to address new nuclear systems under development, which blunts our ability to bring the best science and technology to this problem.

Today’s complex security environment demands expanded efforts and renewed commitment, as well as new approaches and tools.  I believe that this is a positive opportunity for the world’s nuclear security experts to work together to design the nuclear security systems of the 21st century, systems that are more robust, effective, cost-efficient and designed to meet future—not just current—demands.   A strategy for maximizing this opportunity rests on two imperatives: international cooperation and domestic innovation.

Meeting the Challenge – International Efforts

I will address international cooperation first.  Today, NNSA partners with over 100 countries across the globe on priority nuclear security issues.  These efforts include work to upgrade security systems and at-risk materials at nuclear sites worldwide, safeguards and verification efforts and assistance, physical protection assessments and training, elimination and disposal of surplus weapons materials, and work to help establish and implement international nonproliferation standards.   We recognize the urgency of this mission, and have accelerated these efforts in response.

An excellent example of this is the enormously successful partnership with Russia under the U.S.-Russian Bratislava Nuclear Security Initiative, to accelerate our nuclear security cooperation.   By the end of this year, we will have completed security upgrades at Russian nuclear sites, under the Bratislava Joint Statement signed by Presidents Bush and Putin.  This Bratislava work represents a 2 year acceleration of our bilateral cooperation.  Although these upgrade efforts are largely drawing to a close after over a decade of work, we will continue security upgrade work at sites added to our work scope after the Bratislava summit, and will continue to work cooperatively with Russia to ensure the long-term sustainability of the investment we have made.

Also under this Initiative, we are cooperating with Russia to accelerate the conversion of research reactors in countries around the world from the use of HEU to low enriched uranium and to repatriate the HEU back to Russia and the United States.   To date, this partnership has resulted in the conversion or shutdown of 56 reactors--12 of which were converted in just the past 3 years alone--and the removal of over 1,900 kilograms of HEU.  We are also using the Bratislava mechanism to share security best practices and establish a nuclear security culture.

NNSA’s Elimination of Weapons-Grade Plutonium Production program is working with Rosatom to cease permanently the production of weapons-grade plutonium by replacing the heat and electricity produced by Russia’s last three weapons-grade plutonium production reactors, allowing the reactors to be shut down.  This year we shut down two reactors at Seversk, ending 43 years of weapons-grade plutonium production there.   We accelerated this key work to complete the shutdown of these two reactors 6 months and 8 months early.  At Russia’s last such reactor, in Zheleznogorsk, NNSA and Rosatom are working to construct a replacement fossil-fueled facility no later than December 2010.  In fact, we are hopeful that the Zheleznogorsk reactor shutdown schedule can be accelerated to allow shutdown one full year early, in 2009.  The permanent closure of the Zheleznogorsk reactor will end the era of weapons-grade plutonium production in Russia.

This year marks the 15th anniversary of the HEU Purchase Agreement.  To date, over 330 metric tons of HEU from Russia’s dismantled nuclear weapons have been irreversibly eliminated—which would be enough for over 13,000 nuclear weapons.   Instead, 10% of U.S. electricity is generated from this material.

This year also marks the 10th anniversary of NNSA-Rosatom cooperation under the Second Line of Defense program.  Under this landmark program, we have equipped nearly 120 Russian border crossings with radiation detection equipment, and another 43 sites outside of Russia.  NNSA and our Russian counterparts are on track to equip all of Russia’s border crossing with radiation detection devices by 2011—6 years ahead of schedule.  This is in addition to the program’s efforts to provide such detection equipment to airports, and to key seaports under the Megaports program.

However, while the United States and Russia share unique security responsibilities as nuclear weapon states and advanced nuclear technology holders, we recognize that other countries have nuclear security needs and obligations.   In the past 8 years, NNSA has significantly expanded its cooperation across the globe, to now include efforts with over 100 countries, often working in partnership with the IAEA and others.

The United States remains committed to working with partners to establish and implement a set of nuclear security standards consistent with today’s nuclear security realities.  To that end, NNSA is on the front line of efforts to help countries meet their safeguards, security, and export control obligations under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540.  Last year alone, NNSA trained some 300 nuclear facility operators in foreign countries on material accounting and control procedures and some 1,000 licensing, industry, and customs officers to assess export license applications and identify strategic commodities.  Moreover, we have led the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, which provides the practical means to achieve the legal mandates of UNSCR 1540.

NNSA similarly supports the World Institute for Nuclear Security – a or “WINS” – effort to promote the sharing and implementation of nuclear security best practices, focusing on the facility operators who have first line responsibility for the security of their facilities and materials.

Meeting the Challenge –Domestic Efforts

A second component of an effective global nuclear security strategy is domestic innovation: that is, putting our science and technology capabilities to work in the service of nuclear nonproliferation and counter-terrorism.

The United States—given the technical expertise resident at the U.S. National Labs—has both an opportunity and responsibility to lead nuclear security advances.  To that end, I would like to share with you new initiatives that NNSA is pursuing to best leverage our capabilities to address future needs.

One initiative that you may have heard about is our Complex Transformation effort.  One of its numerous benefits is that Complex Transformation will significantly enhance nuclear materials security within the DOE Complex and reshape the nuclear weapons complex to make it more agile and responsive to our nation’s needs.  Coupled with the Reliable Replacement Warhead program, this transformation will help reduce the size of our nuclear stockpile to reflect the reduced role of nuclear weapons since the Cold War and to uphold the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

We are also taking aggressive action to improve the security of special nuclear material, SNM, and nuclear weapons in our custody.  The consolidation of SNM operations and storage allows us to reduce the number of targets that must be defended and reduce the financial burden of physical protection at our sites.  Vital to our plans for material consolidation are the plutonium disposition program and the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility, which will enable us to convert 34 MT of weapons-grade plutonium into enough fuel to power 1 million households for 50 years.

To support our consolidation objective, NNSA removed material requiring Category I/II levels of physical protection from Sandia National Laboratories in early 2008.  We will remove high-security nuclear weapons material from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory by 2012.  This will consolidate Category I and II special nuclear materials that require the highest level of security from 6 to 4 sites, with a significantly smaller high-security perimeter at those sites by 2017.  We are reducing also the footprint of buildings and structures supporting weapons missions by about 9 million square feet, effecting significant financial and security benefits.

I should note that the entire Department of Energy manages nuclear materials at about 40 sites, expending over half a billion dollars a year in the process.  This introduces a significant management challenge that we are taking head on by consolidating materials and coordinating plans for disposition.  For this purpose, we will establish an Office of Nuclear Materials Integration, which will be responsible for streamlining the nuclear materials management activities of the Department’s Offices of Defense Programs, Nuclear Nonproliferation, Science, Nuclear Energy, and Environmental Management.

Consistent with the work we are doing internationally to bolster physical protection standards and practices, NNSA has made security enhancements in recent years.  For example: we have improved the protection of critical facilities from vehicle bombs and strengthening facilities against attack; hardened storage vaults; improved facility configurations; and implemented an aggressive protection strategy to prevent access to special nuclear material on an NNSA site, or, if that fails, to prevent escape and recover stolen material.

NNSA is focused on technology-based solutions, as force multipliers, to improve site defenses, including the critical aspects of detection, assessment, delay, and response while reducing overall costs of security.   Upgrades to NNSA facilities are already underway.  At the Y-12 National Security Complex, for example, installation of an Argus security control system will bring alarm systems up to modern standards and supports our broader effort to integrate personnel security and access control across NNSA, avoid duplicative site-level security information systems, and replace antiquated technology.

Recognizing the need to move away from compliance-based systems and towards a performance-based risk management system, NNSA undertook the Safeguards First Principles Initiative (SFPI).   The objective of this initiative was to develop a principle-based standard for Nuclear Material Control and Accountability (MC&A) programs that can be tailored to well-characterized risks, and material inventories, and site operations.

To demonstrate proof of principle for the SFPI approach, NNSA conducted test bed applications at two facilities in 2007: the Nevada Test Site and portions of the Y-12 National Security Complex.  At Y-12, the facility experienced a significant increase in operational efficiency by gaining four operational work weeks per year and realizing a cost savings of $5.6M annually while increasing the MC&A program effectiveness.

Both Y-12 and Nevada Test Site now fully implement the SFPI approach for domestic safeguards.   The performance of their respective MC&A programs is significantly stronger, defensible, and measurable.   Given the success of this initiative, NNSA is continuing its implementation at other NNSA sites.

Enhanced domestic security efforts go beyond DOE/NNSA sites.  NNSA’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative is working with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Department of Homeland Security, other Federal agencies, State and Local governments, and the private sector to reduce risks at civilian nuclear and radiological sites.  To date, GTRI has converted 14 of the United States’ 28 research reactors to LEU with 2 more conversions planned later this year.  We have also recovered almost 18,000 excess and unwanted radiological sources, and will begin the installation of enhanced security upgrades at high priority nuclear and radiological facilities.

I would like to close with discussion about an area in which DOE and NNSA have a long history, but to which we are giving new emphasis: international safeguards.

In thinking about the future nuclear security environment, the challenges that we face, and the opportunities to make a difference, it is clear that we must rededicate ourselves to a robust safeguards system.

Although nuclear power holds tremendous promise for a sustainable energy future, we must also be mindful of the proliferation challenges associated with the spread of nuclear energy, particularly fuel cycle facilities and technologies.  A foremost requirement to ensure that nuclear power expansion does not result in nuclear proliferation or WMD terrorism is that the International Atomic Energy Agency must have the resources – people, technology and funding – it needs to carry out its safeguards responsibilities.

Since the early 1990s, demands on the IAEA have grown by every measure – the number of countries and facilities and the quantity of materials under safeguards.  The Agency has also taken on new responsibilities to ferret out undeclared nuclear activities, carrying out high-profile investigations into the nuclear programs of Iran, North Korea, Libya and, most recently, Syria.

This widening gap between workload and resources poses a serious threat to the international safeguards system.  To address this challenge, at the 2007 IAEA General Conference last September, Secretary Bodman announced the launching of the Next Generation Safeguards Initiative, or NGSI, to revitalize the international safeguards technology and capability.

The Next Generation Safeguards Initiative will be a broad and comprehensive effort, including:

  • strengthening safeguards policies and institutions,
  • implementing advanced safeguards concepts and approaches,
  • developing new safeguards technologies and analytical methodologies,
  • attracting and training a new generation of safeguards experts, and
  • building safeguards infrastructures in countries considering nuclear power.

Immediate program goals include institutionalizing the concept of “Safeguards by Design,” an approach that seeks to optimize safeguards implementation at nuclear facilities by designing safeguards requirements into new facilities at the earliest stage of conceptual design.  In terms of technology development, we plan to invest in emerging technologies for direct measurement of plutonium in spent fuel as well as to develop a new toolkit of robust, multifunctional detection instruments for use during IAEA inspections.

In the area of human resources and training, NNSA has initiated pilot programs to develop course materials on safeguards technology, policy and information analysis, summer internships at the national labs to stimulate interest in pursuing international safeguards as a career path, and others.

We are also working to solidify partnerships with aspiring nuclear energy countries to ensure that international safeguards and security factor into their long term planning.   The goal of this initiative is not to put the United States or DOE in the driver’s seat in regard to international safeguards; rather the goal is to put fuel in the tank for the long road ahead.   I am particularly pleased that this meeting will include a special session on this initiative so that we can begin the process of shaping NGSI priorities in a way that reflects a consensus path forward.


In conclusion, what we seek is agreement on means to advance nuclear security globally, both through international partnerships and the widest possible application of effective security practices at home.  As the A. Q. Khan network example demonstrated, proliferators or terrorists need just one weak link in the nuclear nonproliferation regime to get their foot in the door.   A country’s nuclear security responsibility does not stop at the boundaries of its nuclear facilities, but rather it requires the sharing of best practices, the facilitation of those practices in countries worldwide, and vigilant efforts to ensure that international security institutions and standards keep pace with technological and international developments.

Never before have the challenges to nuclear security been so many, but never before has the potential benefit from the dedication of experts working together to address these challenges been so enormous.  Standing here today, I know that you are the very group that will blaze the path forward, by taking on this challenge directly and maximizing this historical opportunity.  I wish you all success.  Thank you.