Nuclear Nonproliferation:

Comprehensive U.S. Planning and Better Foreign Cooperation Needed to Secure Vulnerable Nuclear Materials Worldwide

GAO-11-227: Published: Dec 15, 2010. Publicly Released: Dec 15, 2010.

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In April 2009, President Obama announced an international initiative to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials worldwide within 4 years. Nonproliferation programs administered by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) are working to secure nuclear materials in Russia and other countries. GAO assessed (1) U.S. governmentwide efforts to implement the President's 4-year nuclear material security initiative; (2) the status and challenges, if any, of NNSA's nuclear security programs in Russia; and (3) NNSA efforts to secure nuclear materials in countries other than Russia. To address these issues, GAO analyzed U.S. nuclear security strategies and plans and interviewed U.S. and Russian government officials. This report summarizes the findings of GAO's classified report on securing nuclear materials worldwide.

NSC officials have approved a governmentwide strategy for the President's 4-year global nuclear material security initiative that describes the scope and objectives of the interagency effort and identifies the main efforts by U.S. agencies and programs to support the initiative. However, this interagency strategy lacks specific details concerning how the initiative will be implemented, including the identity of vulnerable foreign nuclear material sites and facilities to be addressed, agencies and programs responsible for addressing each site, planned activities at each location, potential challenges and strategies for overcoming those obstacles, anticipated timelines, and cost estimates. As a result, key details associated with the initiative are unclear, including its overall estimated cost, time frame, and scope of planned work. Three NNSA nuclear nonproliferation programs GAO reviewed--the MPC&A program, the Materials Consolidation and Conversion (MCC) program, and the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI)--have made varying degrees of progress in securing Russian nuclear warheads and materials. While the MPC&A program has made considerable progress securing Russia's nuclear warhead and material facilities, the MCC and GTRI programs have had more limited success achieving their objectives in Russia. Moreover, the future of these efforts in Russia is unclear because of questionable high-level Russian political commitment to nuclear security cooperation with the United States. Each of these three programs also faces implementation challenges. The MPC&A program, in particular, faces challenges in successfully completing upgrades against insider and outsider threats at some Russian nuclear material facilities and in transitioning responsibility to Russia for sustaining MPC&A systems. Because of the time required to address these challenges, NNSA is unlikely to meet a deadline under current U.S. law requiring Russia to assume sole responsibility for sustaining MPC&A by January 1, 2013, and MPC&A program activities will need to continue in Russia beyond the statutory deadline. In addition to its efforts in Russia, NNSA is working with other countries on issues related to the security of weapon-usable nuclear materials. In two countries believed to have large nuclear material stockpiles--China and India--political sensitivities have limited NNSA's efforts in both nations to the relatively noncontroversial exchange of nuclear security best practices, training, and demonstration projects instead of implementing MPC&A activities directly at nuclear sites. NNSA is also seeking to accelerate the removal of weapon-usable nuclear materials from other priority countries through the GTRI program, including key countries that made new commitments at the April 2010 Nuclear Security Summit to relinquish or reduce their weapon-usable nuclear material stockpiles. In particular, NNSA officials reported progress in negotiations with several nations--including Ukraine and South Africa--following the summit for the removal of some highly enriched uranium located in those countries. GAO suggests that Congress consider extending the deadline for NNSA to complete Material Protection, Control, and Accounting (MPC&A) program activities in Russia. GAO recommends that the Department of Energy (DOE) and NNSA take several actions regarding three nonproliferation program efforts in Russia, such as clarifying the remaining scope and costs of MPC&A work in Russia. GAO also recommends that the National Security Council (NSC) lead interagency development of a more detailed implementation plan for the President's 4-year initiative. DOE and NNSA agreed with the recommendations. NSC did not comment on GAO's recommendations.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Matter for Congressional Consideration

    Matter: Because of the likely need for the MPC&A program to work with Russia past December 31, 2012, Congress may wish to consider amending the current law--as initially laid out in the Bob Stump National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2003--to give the MPC&A program additional time to work toward achievement of an MPC&A system that Russia is prepared for and capable of sustaining on its own. Considering input from the Secretary of Energy and the Administrator of NNSA as recommended below, Congress may wish to consider such an extension for a fixed period of time.

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we determine what steps the Congress has taken, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy and the Administrator of NNSA should reevaluate NNSA strategies--with an eye toward new incentives, inducements, or other sources of leverage--to persuade Russia to expand its cooperation with the MCC and GTRI programs with the goal of expediting the consolidation of Russian HEU to fewer locations and the conversion of Russian highly enriched uranium (HEU)-fueled research reactors and related facilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy: National Nuclear Security Administration

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy and the Administrator of NNSA should reevaluate NNSA strategies--with an eye toward new incentives, inducements, or other sources of leverage--to persuade Russia to expand its cooperation with the MCC and GTRI programs with the goal of expediting the consolidation of Russian HEU to fewer locations and the conversion of Russian highly enriched uranium (HEU)-fueled research reactors and related facilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To enhance NNSA nuclear nonproliferation program planning, and provide a clearer picture of Russia's willingness and ability to support and sustain MPC&A and other nuclear security investments the United States has made in Russia, the Secretary of Energy and the Administrator of NNSA should strengthen cooperation with the Russian government regarding the transparency of its current and future spending plans on nuclear security programs and activities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy: National Nuclear Security Administration

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To enhance NNSA nuclear nonproliferation program planning, and provide a clearer picture of Russia's willingness and ability to support and sustain MPC&A and other nuclear security investments the United States has made in Russia, the Secretary of Energy and the Administrator of NNSA should strengthen cooperation with the Russian government regarding the transparency of its current and future spending plans on nuclear security programs and activities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To assist Congress in its decision whether and for how long to extend the current deadline, the Secretary of Energy and the Administrator of NNSA should clarify in a written plan the scope of remaining MPC&A work in Russia beyond the current program deadline, including information on remaining MPC&A activities by site or facility, timelines, and estimated costs of completing MPC&A program work in that country.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To assist Congress in its decision whether and for how long to extend the current deadline, the Secretary of Energy and the Administrator of NNSA should clarify in a written plan the scope of remaining MPC&A work in Russia beyond the current program deadline, including information on remaining MPC&A activities by site or facility, timelines, and estimated costs of completing MPC&A program work in that country.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy: National Nuclear Security Administration

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To provide a clear sense of the overall scope of work anticipated under the President's initiative to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials worldwide within 4 years, the NSC should lead and coordinate through NNSA, DOD, State, and other relevant agencies, including members of the intelligence community, the development of a comprehensive plan for implementing the initiative. Such a plan should clearly identify the specific foreign countries, sites, and facilities where materials have been determined to be poorly secured, and include information specifying the agencies and programs responsible for addressing each location; planned activities, potential implementation challenges, and steps needed to overcome those challenges at each location; and estimated time frames and costs associated with achievement of the 4-year goal.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: National Security Council

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

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