On the Importance of MC&A to Nuclear Security

Author data: 
Martha Williams
Publication Date: 
February 2014

CISSM Working Paper

Over the past fifty years, the threats posed by nuclear material and nuclear weapons have changed. These changes demand a new response. During the Cold War, the primary concern was that more States might establish programs to develop nuclear weapons. This is still a possibility, however, the concern of State proliferation of nuclear weapons has been joined by a new concern, namely the concern that a non-State actor might acquire a nuclear weapon or misuse nuclear or other radioactive material to create a disruptive nuclear security event.

Because the threat has changed, international and national approaches to nuclear security need to change. Measures should be adopted world-wide that respond to the potential for a non-State actor to acquire and misuse nuclear material. (The primary subject of this paper is containing nuclear material threats. However, the same concepts that apply to nuclear material apply to other radioactive material, and from this point forward “nuclear material” could be interchanged with “nuclear and other radioactive material.”) The first step in preventing a non-State actor from acquiring nuclear material is for States to require nuclear facilities (i.e. organizations that possess nuclear material) to establish programs to maintain control over and account for the nuclear material that they possess.

Most States already require a program of accounting for and control of nuclear material as part of their international nuclear safeguards programs. Enhancing existing nuclear material control and accounting (MC&A) programs could help to address the evolved threat to nuclear security, in addition to improving safeguards. This paper addresses the need to enhance existing MC&A programs to accommodate the needs of nuclear security. If you know what nuclear material you have, if you know where it is, and if you would recognize if it had gone missing, then you have taken the first step toward protecting people and the environment from misuse of it—one of the primary goals of nuclear security.