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Title: Atoms for peace and the nonproliferation treaty: unintended consequences

Abstract

In April 2009, President Obama revived nonproliferation and arms control efforts with a speech calling for the worldwide abolition of nuclear weapons. His speech correctly acknowledged the threat of nuclear terrorism and the vulnerabilities of the related unsecure nuclear materials. Unfortunately, the president did not mention and has not mentioned in any speech the threat posed by at-risk radiological materials. Nonproliferation efforts have a well documented history of focus on special nuclear materials (fissionable weapons usable materials or SNM), and other key materials (chemical and biological) and technologies for a Weapon of Mass Destruction (WMD). Such intense focus on WMD related materials/technologies is essential for international safety and security and merit continued attention and funding. However, the perception that radioactive sealed sources (sources) are of less concern than WMD is unfortunate. These perceptions are based solely on the potentially enormous and tragic consequences associated with their deliberate or accidental misuse and proliferation concerns. However, there is a documented history of overemphasis on the nuclear threat at the expense of ignoring the far more likely and also devastating chemical and biological threats. The radiological threat should not be minimized or excluded from policy discussions and decisions on these far ranging scopesmore » of threat to the international community. Sources have a long history of use; and a wider distribution worldwide than fissile materials. Pair this with their broad ranges in isotopes/activities along with scant national and international attention and mechanisms for their safe and secure management and it is not difficult to envision a deadly threat. Arguments that minimize or divert attention away from sources may have the effect of distracting necessary policy attention on preventing/mitigating a radiological dispersal event. The terrorist attacks on 9/11 should be a clear reminder of the inherent danger of diminishing or dismissing lower-level threats in exchange for enhanced focus on high priority special nuclear materials with the basis for this emphasis being solely on the magnitude of the consequences of a single event. Mitigating all possible or likely terrorist attacks is impossible; however, weaponized sources, in the form of a radiological dispersal device, have been a declared target material of Al-Qaida. Eisenhower's Atoms for Peace initiative promoted the spread of the paradoxical beneficial yet destructive properties of the atom. Typically, the focus of nonproliferation efforts focuses on the fissile materials associated with Weapons of Mass Destruction, with less emphasis on radioactive materials that could be used for a Weapon of Mass Disruption. Most nonproliferation policy discussion involves securing or preventing the diversion of weapons grade fissile materials (uranium (U) with concentration of over 90% of the isotope {sup 235}U (HEU) and plutonium with more than 90% of the isotope {sup 239}Pu), with scant attention given to the threat posed by a prolific quantity of sources spread worldwide. Further acerbating the problem of inattention, it appears that the momentum of the continued evolution in the beneficial applications of sources will only increase in the near future. Several expert studies have demonstrated on the potentially devastating economic, psychological and public health impacts of terrorist use of a radiological dispersal or radiation emitting device (ROD/RED) in a metropolis. The development of such a weapon, from the acquisition of the radioactive material to the technical knowledge needed to fashion it into an ROD, is many orders of magnitude easier than diverting enough fissile material for and fabrication/acquisition of a nuclear weapon. Unlike nuclear weapons, worldwide, there are many well documented accounts of accidental and purposeful diversions of radioactive materials from regulatory control. As of the end of 2008, the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) Illicit Trafficking Database had logged 1562 incidents, of which only 18 include weapons grade nuclear materials. As much as 66% of the radioactive material involved in these incidents was not recovered. Since 2004, there has been a 75% increase in incidents of unrecoverable material, much of which is labeled dangerous with potential for deterministic health affects if misused. This makes clear that a black market of illicit trade in sources exists. The incidents reported to the IAEA's database rely only on voluntary state reporting; therefore, the number of lost or stolen sources is expected to be much higher.« less

Authors:
 [1]
  1. Los Alamos National Laboratory
Publication Date:
Research Org.:
Los Alamos National Lab. (LANL), Los Alamos, NM (United States)
Sponsoring Org.:
USDOE
OSTI Identifier:
971326
Report Number(s):
LA-UR-09-06281; LA-UR-09-6281
TRN: US1001158
DOE Contract Number:  
AC52-06NA25396
Resource Type:
Journal Article
Journal Name:
Nonproliferation Review
Additional Journal Information:
Journal Name: Nonproliferation Review
Country of Publication:
United States
Language:
English
Subject:
7; 45; 98; ARMS CONTROL; ATOMS; FISSILE MATERIALS; IAEA; NON-PROLIFERATION TREATY; NUCLEAR ENERGY; NUCLEAR WEAPONS; PLUTONIUM; PROLIFERATION; PUBLIC HEALTH; RADIATIONS; RADIOACTIVE MATERIALS; SAFETY; SEALED SOURCES; SECURITY; SPEECH; TARGETS; URANIUM; WEAPONS

Citation Formats

Streeper, Charles Blamires. Atoms for peace and the nonproliferation treaty: unintended consequences. United States: N. p., 2009. Web.
Streeper, Charles Blamires. Atoms for peace and the nonproliferation treaty: unintended consequences. United States.
Streeper, Charles Blamires. Thu . "Atoms for peace and the nonproliferation treaty: unintended consequences". United States.
@article{osti_971326,
title = {Atoms for peace and the nonproliferation treaty: unintended consequences},
author = {Streeper, Charles Blamires},
abstractNote = {In April 2009, President Obama revived nonproliferation and arms control efforts with a speech calling for the worldwide abolition of nuclear weapons. His speech correctly acknowledged the threat of nuclear terrorism and the vulnerabilities of the related unsecure nuclear materials. Unfortunately, the president did not mention and has not mentioned in any speech the threat posed by at-risk radiological materials. Nonproliferation efforts have a well documented history of focus on special nuclear materials (fissionable weapons usable materials or SNM), and other key materials (chemical and biological) and technologies for a Weapon of Mass Destruction (WMD). Such intense focus on WMD related materials/technologies is essential for international safety and security and merit continued attention and funding. However, the perception that radioactive sealed sources (sources) are of less concern than WMD is unfortunate. These perceptions are based solely on the potentially enormous and tragic consequences associated with their deliberate or accidental misuse and proliferation concerns. However, there is a documented history of overemphasis on the nuclear threat at the expense of ignoring the far more likely and also devastating chemical and biological threats. The radiological threat should not be minimized or excluded from policy discussions and decisions on these far ranging scopes of threat to the international community. Sources have a long history of use; and a wider distribution worldwide than fissile materials. Pair this with their broad ranges in isotopes/activities along with scant national and international attention and mechanisms for their safe and secure management and it is not difficult to envision a deadly threat. Arguments that minimize or divert attention away from sources may have the effect of distracting necessary policy attention on preventing/mitigating a radiological dispersal event. The terrorist attacks on 9/11 should be a clear reminder of the inherent danger of diminishing or dismissing lower-level threats in exchange for enhanced focus on high priority special nuclear materials with the basis for this emphasis being solely on the magnitude of the consequences of a single event. Mitigating all possible or likely terrorist attacks is impossible; however, weaponized sources, in the form of a radiological dispersal device, have been a declared target material of Al-Qaida. Eisenhower's Atoms for Peace initiative promoted the spread of the paradoxical beneficial yet destructive properties of the atom. Typically, the focus of nonproliferation efforts focuses on the fissile materials associated with Weapons of Mass Destruction, with less emphasis on radioactive materials that could be used for a Weapon of Mass Disruption. Most nonproliferation policy discussion involves securing or preventing the diversion of weapons grade fissile materials (uranium (U) with concentration of over 90% of the isotope {sup 235}U (HEU) and plutonium with more than 90% of the isotope {sup 239}Pu), with scant attention given to the threat posed by a prolific quantity of sources spread worldwide. Further acerbating the problem of inattention, it appears that the momentum of the continued evolution in the beneficial applications of sources will only increase in the near future. Several expert studies have demonstrated on the potentially devastating economic, psychological and public health impacts of terrorist use of a radiological dispersal or radiation emitting device (ROD/RED) in a metropolis. The development of such a weapon, from the acquisition of the radioactive material to the technical knowledge needed to fashion it into an ROD, is many orders of magnitude easier than diverting enough fissile material for and fabrication/acquisition of a nuclear weapon. Unlike nuclear weapons, worldwide, there are many well documented accounts of accidental and purposeful diversions of radioactive materials from regulatory control. As of the end of 2008, the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) Illicit Trafficking Database had logged 1562 incidents, of which only 18 include weapons grade nuclear materials. As much as 66% of the radioactive material involved in these incidents was not recovered. Since 2004, there has been a 75% increase in incidents of unrecoverable material, much of which is labeled dangerous with potential for deterministic health affects if misused. This makes clear that a black market of illicit trade in sources exists. The incidents reported to the IAEA's database rely only on voluntary state reporting; therefore, the number of lost or stolen sources is expected to be much higher.},
doi = {},
journal = {Nonproliferation Review},
number = ,
volume = ,
place = {United States},
year = {2009},
month = {1}
}