Nuclear Industry Pledges to Fortify Security of Materials

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By Rebecca Kern

March 30 — The nuclear industry vowed at a global industry summit to enhance the security of nuclear and radiological materials.

The industry pledged in a joint statement to effectively secure all nuclear and radiological materials in industrial facilities and applications according to International Atomic Energy Agency guidelines and to improve cybersecurity across all nuclear facilities and applications.

The joint statement at a March 30 Nuclear Industry Summit will serve as recommendations to the more than 50 world leaders attending the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit meeting, which was being held for the final time March 31 and April 1 in Washington.

The Nuclear Industry Summit has been occurring on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit, and the industry leaders plan to continue to meet in the future.

Growing Cybersecurity Threats

“The cyber threat has expanded exponentially in recent years with a series of damaging, high-profile attacks,” said former Sen. Sam Nunn, the CEO of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, which works with world leaders to reduce reliance on nuclear weapons.

“We all know that neither nuclear facilities nor weapon complexes are immune to the growing danger which is dynamic and which is challenging,” he said at the meeting.

He said the Nuclear Threat Initiative has looked at 47 countries with weapons-usable nuclear material or nuclear facilities and found nearly half of them didn't have foundational legal and regulatory requirements in place.

“There is a dangerous gap in the governmental focus on this threat. To put it mildly, this is an area where much work needs to be done,” he said.

Needed Culture Change for Security in Industry

Similarly, Marvin Fertel, chief executive officer of the Nuclear Energy Institute, acknowledged that the industry has long focused on safety and it's still improving its focus on security.

“Our industry has done very well in safety for decades now. I think that in security we're getting better and better. We're not as good as we were in safety yet,” Fertel told reporters at the meeting.

He said this is because it requires a culture change in the nuclear industry—requiring the security personnel at plants to share the secure information and the safety personnel paying as much attention to security issues.

But he said the industry has dramatically boosted personnel and funding toward safety, to the point that security staff make up the largest number of personnel at nuclear plants today.

Separately at the meeting, an industry cybersecurity working group issued a report that included 27 recommendations about how government and industry can develop counter measures in the cyber domain.

Rise of Terrorist Threats to Nuclear Facilities

The U.S. and Russia need to form a working group to prevent ISIS and other terrorist groups from obtaining nuclear materials, Nunn said.

“In the immediate future, both the United States and Russia should be able to agree that the threat posed by terrorist organizations affects the core and vital interests of both of our countries,” Nunn said at the meeting of global nuclear executives.

Nunn said he recently suggested in both Moscow and in Washington that President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin should announce a joint working group, which would be led by energy departments, intelligence agencies and defense departments. The group's goal would be to prevent ISIS and other terrorist groups from obtaining any nuclear, radiological, chemical or biological weapons or materials.

While Putin is not attending the Nuclear Security Summit, Russia has sent delegates to observe the proceedings.

Nunn acknowledged the successful work on an international level to reduce the number of countries with weapons-usable nuclear materials from 52 countries in 1992 to 24 countries today.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rebecca Kern in Washington at rkern@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com