Nuclear Weapons | Analysis and New Insights

Creating a 21st-Century Nuclear Material Security Architecture

Kenneth N. Luongo | November 2010


The April 2010 Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, DC, drew international attention to the threat of nuclear terrorism and the need to adequately protect weapon-usable nuclear material around the globe. It was an unprecedented event: the first such gathering of political officials to discuss the subject. The summit was a success in the sense that the attendees agreed to take steps to fully implement the existing elements of the nuclear material security regime.

But the scope and results of the summit also raised an important question—are the current components of the nuclear material security architecture, even if fully and rapidly implemented, sufficient to protect the global stockpile of fissile material from terrorist exploitation? This question was neither asked nor answered at the summit.

Despite the limited scope of the summit and the voluntary nature of the commitments, the April 2010 summit solidified the foundation of the current nuclear regime and was a starting point for the development of a stronger nuclear material security architecture, one that is capable of responding to the evolving nuclear terrorism threat. The two years between the past summit and the next one need to be used not just to ensure that 2010 summit commitments are implemented but also to reframe the nuclear material security debate and initiate some key changes in strategy.