An urgent effort to secure nuclear material
Former Senator Sam Nunn speaks with CNN's Jill Dougherty about his efforts to help secure nuclear materials around the world.
January 12th, 2012
03:00 AM ET

An urgent effort to secure nuclear material

By Suzanne Kelly, Jill Dougherty and Jamie Crawford

It sounds more like an episode of the heart-pounding TV series "24'"than a research project by a nonproliferation think tank.

The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) released results of a yearlong study Wednesday - the first of its kind - that looks at just how closely countries are safeguarding their nuclear materials and what might happen if they don't do a better job of it.

"If terrorists succeeded in blowing up a large city somewhere in the world, the result would be catastrophic," NTI co-chair and former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn told a group of journalists and nuclear experts in Washington before laying out just what that would look like. He described a "human toll of hundreds of thousands dead and injured, and disruptions to global commerce and global confidence, and long-term environmental and public health consequences."

Nunn and CNN founder Ted Turner are co-chairs of NTI, which teamed up with The Economist Intelligence Unit, the research arm of the publication that puts out the Economist magazine, to gather and compile a ranking of security conditions in 176 countries.

These are nations that either have known nuclear materials that could be used to manufacture a nuclear weapon or countries that could be used as "staging grounds" or "transit points for illicit nuclear activities."

Researchers ranked countries based on five categories:

- Quantities and sites
- Security and control measures
- Global norms
- Domestic commitments and capacity
- Societal factors

Some of the countries that did not have what is considered "weapons-usable" materials were ranked on a subset of those categories.

At the top of the overall list, (meaning it did the most comprehensive job across all categories) were Australia, Hungary, Czech Republic,Switzerland and Austria. Ranking near the bottom were India, Vietnam, Iran, Pakistan and North Korea.

The U.S. ranked 13th on the list, in part because of its failure to sign on to global nuclear treaties.

NTI is making recommendations based on its findings ahead of a global nuclear summit to be held in Seoul, South Korea, in March. Among them: encouraging the global community to build a foundation for a global nuclear materials security system and improving state stewardship of nuclear materials.

It sounds like a natural task for the United Nation's nuclear watchdog agency, but these recommendations are beyond the International Atomic Energy Agency's current reach, according to Deepti Choubey, Senior Director for Nuclear and Bio-security at NTI.

"The IAEA only has the authority to oversee materials in civilian programs and not the materials used for military purposes. As such, the IAEA does not have the mandate or the resources to oversee a comprehensive system covering all weapons-usable nuclear materials. So instead today we only have in place part of the system that we actually need to tackle this problem," said Choubey.

And the problem is a global one. According to Nunn, nuclear material that could be used in a nuclear weapon is spread over 32 countries. Much of it is poorly secured.

All 32 countries were extended an invitation to be briefed on NTI's findings. Iran and North Korea declined the briefing. Both were still offered an opportunity to validate the data gathered but chose not to do so.

"There is also greater know-how today to build a bomb, and there are terrorist organizations determined to get the material and build a weapon if they can," added Nunn. "It is clear that the elements of a perfect storm are gathering. There's a large supply of plutonium and highly enriched uranium and what we call weapons-usable nuclear materials."

And just like in "24," Nunn says the clock is ticking.

"We have a global challenge," said Nunn. "And we are in a race between cooperation and catastrophe."

soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. SVP

    stop bashing on America u ignorant Liberals! what has asscrackastan done for u? huh

    January 16, 2012 at 12:59 am | Reply
  2. UglyTruth

    Israel was ranked 25 out of the 32 countries with weapons-usable nuclear materials, with an overall score of 56 points out of 100 in a rating that classifies countries according to their ability to secure nuclear materials for military use that are stored in onsite facilities. Only Uzbekistan, China, India, Vietnam, Iran, Pakistan, and North Korea (last place) were ranked lower than Israel.

    Why does the propaganda of status quo continue to ignore the bad jews?

    January 15, 2012 at 11:51 am | Reply
  3. Bob Knippel

    The development and management of nuclear weapons is only half of the issue, the rest being, in a world destined to deplete it's fossil fuels, the integration and management of nuclear energy as a primary power source. Dismissing nuclear energy as a power source is not an option: fossil fuels are a finite resource, consummed at an ever increasing rate, with no possibility of altering the eventual termination of fossil fuel as a major source of energy. And while the U.S. has, in fact, used nuclear weapons, that use has to be viewed in context, considering the global conflict which brought about their use, in conjunction with an approximate 65 year period of non-use, which is exceptionally good management, again considering context, namely, the Cold War with Soviet Russia. The same could be said for the Soviets, who also maintained a sensible understanding of what the use of nuclear weapons might produce. On the other end of the spectrum are those who are willing to sacrifice their own lives for a cause which is, essentially, to cause as much destruction as possible to those who do not subscribe to their exact philosophy, which is of reasonable concern to those who see those groups striving to increase access to nuclear materials and/or technology. Unfortunately, not all is equal. France, for example is quite capable in all aspects of nuclear technology, but poses no threat either overtly or covertly with the technology: French nuclear capacity does not trouble me in the least, nor should it. On the other hand, consider the Islamic Republic of Iran. Iran is a country governed by radical fundamentalists with little toleration of Western values; have little reservation in the employment of hostage taking as a form of gunboat diplomacy; have been linked to multiple activities amounting to nothing short of terrorism; and are pursuing nuclear capability on at least one level and probably all levels. That combination is disturbing. Like it or not, nations which have survived earlier growing pains and developed into a considerably further stage of global maturity need to maintain some reasonable degree of global security for the well being of all.

    January 14, 2012 at 8:27 pm | Reply
  4. Skorpio

    I just can not imagine another Ft Hood' Major Hasan in possession or in control of atomic bombs. These crazy Muslims are capable to commit the worst atrocities without experiencing any remorse or guilt. The root of the problem is Islam, this satanic ideology by means of its Islamic clerics (ayatollahs, muftis, imams, mullahs, sheiks, ulemas, etc) transforms an ordinary person into an irrational beast. Unless Islamic clerics experience the same pain, suffering, anxiety as their victims, nothing is going to change. Eliminating Muslim clerics will make the world safer, peaceful and happy.

    January 13, 2012 at 9:45 am | Reply
    • Bob

      American Nazis are doing worse atrocities than those so called Islamists.

      January 13, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Reply
  5. Cube

    Why isn't Israel on the list? And Vietnam is! What a joke!!!

    January 13, 2012 at 3:42 am | Reply
  6. Sanchanim

    This is why unrestricted or unmonitored enrichment activities by North Korea and Iran is so dangerous. Yes other countries need to secure their stockpiles better, I couldn't agree more. I am more frightened of Pakistan, India, Iran if they make one, and North Korea either loosing one or secretly selling it on the open market to an organization which could ay for it.

    January 12, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Reply
  7. FREEMKULTRAND BRAINELEKTRODE4YA

    MILLIONS TO BE ASSASSINATED FOR THE SAKE OF $$$ LIABILITIES(mk-ultra, chip implants, electroshocks etc. performed on them) AND NEW WORLD ORDER(multiculturalism = terrorism) POLITICAL AGENDA KNOWN AS "YOU ARE NEXT"(financial liabilities are 2 expensive for the government and it is cheaper to get read of you instead) !!! IF YOU WERE TREATED WITH ELECTROSHOCKS OR DRUGS USED FOR WIPING OUT MEMORY(numerous Americans and Europeans were and are) AFTER ENDURING FORCED CHIP IMPLANTS(or to retard individual = also how homeless people are produced), YOU ARE SCHEDULED NEXT !!!

    NOW YOU KNOW WHAT ORWELLIAN UNITED STATES CONGRESS(USSR#2 which consists of lawyers or what are liars and physicians...lawyers, so crime per physicians can get away with it) AND OTHER GOVERNMENTS WORLDWIDE ARE SOOO BUSY WITH WHEN PLAYING/CLOWNING(acting) IN FRONT OF CAMERAS ONLY HOW SOMETHING HAVE TO BE DONE(deliberately omitting/delaying facts of genocide as seen on this complain) !!!

    http://myshortbiography.blogspot.com/

    LEARN TRUTH ABOUT UNITED NATIONS, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL AS WELL AS NEW WORLD ORDER(MULTICULTURALISM = TERRORISM) GOVERNMENTS(Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) !!! NOT THERE TO PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS, BUT TO DENY YOUR RIGHT TO EXISTENCE !!!

    ABDUCTIONS / FORCED BRAIN ELECTRODE/CHIP IMPLANTS / BLACKLISTING / FORCEFUL UNEMPLOYMENT / MK-ULTRA BRAINWASHING AGAINST WHITE(under "NAZI" lie) CIVILIAN POPULATION TODAY IN 2011/2012 ACROSS THE EUROPE AND NORTHERN AMERICA !!!

    http://myshortbiography.blogspot.com/

    WHY TO ACCEPT LIABILITIES FOR CRIMES COMMITTED WHEN WE CAN SIMPLY ASSASSINATE OUR VICTIMS(YOU) THANKS TO HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS AND FREE PRESS/MEDIA(most severe censorship of genocide ever !!!)!!
    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_xGfYOAydjw&w=640&h=360]
    OR
    http://www.youtube.com/user/BostjanAvsec OBAMA'S HEALTH CARE RECORDED LIVE IN 2009 !!! EXILING WHITES(US citizens) WITH EXTREME PREJUDICE AND IMPORTING NON WHITES IMMIGRATION REQUIREMENTS FREE !!!

    January 12, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Reply
  8. reality

    Vietnam included in list means this list is nothing but farce, the list is made based on who is enemy of American empire.

    January 12, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Reply
  9. Hahahahahahahahahahaha

    It's too late. The Russians would sell their own mothers for profit. And so would our own (military) contractors. Hahahahahahahahaha.

    January 12, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Reply
  10. Nas

    Before the U.S. goes off policing the world and barking orders at all the other "dangerous" countries, it should probably sign the global nuclear treaties. Just saying – don't be a hypocrite.

    January 12, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Reply
  11. rk from NY

    a nuclear war on this planet will start with paki nukes..its a banana state owned by its rogue army that lives on US taxpayer money...US should urgently secure paki nukes....only then world will be a safer place...iran's nukes is nothing compared to paki nukes in hands of terrorists and everyone in pak has terrorist connections...

    January 12, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Reply
    • PakaLakaDingDong

      Yep. It will all start within a Buttfuckistan (Islame) country.

      January 12, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Reply
    • reality

      Americanistan was only country who used nukes till now.

      January 12, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Reply
      • Hahahahahahahahahahaha

        So you'd rather be speaking german or japanese now would you? Moron. Hahahahahahahahahaah

        January 13, 2012 at 9:22 am |
  12. Axxel Knuson

    There are periods in history when additional safeguards have to be put in place to protect the people. Never before has it been more important than right now. During WW II we spun into a dither relocating thousands of Japanese from the West coast into concentration camps. The risk didn't exist. George Bush in some dream world suggested that Iraq had WMD's and when it was proven that Iraq had no such weapons, continued the war. Obama, continuing to act the jackass remained in Iraq another three years killing countless and many of our own troops for NOTHING. IKE and JFK imagined a domino theory in Indo-China even after the French got its ass handed to them and Nixon stay in Vietnam three years and 22,000 additional U.S. deaths. None of these wars including Afghanistan were reflective of threats to our national security.

    Suitcase nukes are a much different story. Here is an obvious threat of massive importance and here is where out attention has to be focused. This includes our cooperation with Israel in "Whack-A-Mole" on Iranian scientists but should also include very restrictive immigration and for a period of perhaps 25 years or so, profiling. Not popular, but when we are no longer protected by oceans and the risk is not a few hundred pound bombs but a nuke that can eliminate NYC, DC or LA...well, the ACLU may have to take a back seat...just for a while.

    "If terrorists succeeded in blowing up a large city somewhere in the world, the result would be catastrophic," NTI co-chair and former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn told a group of journalists and nuclear experts in Washington before laying out just what that would look like. He described a "human toll of hundreds of thousands dead and injured, and disruptions to global commerce and global confidence, and long-term environmental and public health consequences." [CNN]

    January 12, 2012 at 10:43 am | Reply
  13. mipolitic

    have a day of amnesty, and no questions ask with free recovery se pickup with gift certificates for pickup trucks loaded with baltic music and vodka.

    January 12, 2012 at 9:43 am | Reply
  14. michaelfury

    When are you and Ted going to secure this, Senator?

    http://michaelfury.wordpress.com/2010/11/11/circle-ix/

    January 12, 2012 at 7:37 am | Reply

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