Reflections on the Nuclear Industry Summit and the Nuclear Security Summit

March 31, 2014

By John Barrett
Canadian Nuclear Association

From March 23 to 25, I and a number of Canadian nuclear-sector executives participated at the Nuclear Industry Summit (NIS) in Amsterdam. The NIS and the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in The Hague were designed by the Netherlands, as host and organizer, to overlap.

The 2014 NSS was the third in a series of Leaders’ Summits established in 2010 by U.S. President Barack Obama to address the security of nuclear materials and radiological sources and to prevent their illicit acquisition by criminal or terrorist entities.


Nuclear Security Background

The idea of an accompanying nuclear industry summit has gained ground. States participating in the NSS have recognized the important role of nuclear industry in implementing effective security arrangements in the handling of sensitive nuclear materials and radiological sources.

To those involved in Canada’s nuclear industry, this recognition of industry’s role in nuclear security likely comes as no surprise, given the regulations and procedures that they already stringently abide by.

This may be so here in Canada. But there is also an awareness that no comparable international regime exists for nuclear security as it does for nuclear safety.

Governments still struggle more with security because of the interplay between sensitive information – whether concerning physical protection or the whereabouts of nuclear and radiological material – and the transparency necessary to give assurance, both to domestic populations as well as to other states, that such materials remain secure. Getting the balance between the two is the challenge.

That is one of the reasons that forms of verification and confidence-building used increasingly in nuclear safety (note in particular the IAEA’s Action Plan on Nuclear Safety, following the Fukushima accident) such as “peer review” are sometimes more resisted by states when it comes to nuclear security. Perhaps they fear the potential embarrassment or additional costs associated with being held under the international spotlight of a peer review. Their deficiencies could become exposed. This is why achieving progress in transparency and assurances is often slower than one hopes.

Nevertheless, the three nuclear security summits give room for optimism. Building an international nuclear security framework cannot be achieved in one fell swoop. But we can learn from the experiences in other areas of verification and confidence-building in the civil nuclear sphere. In two other areas – nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear safety – the IAEA acts as a mechanism for verification. For states that are parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, they are legally bound to allow the IAEA to impose safeguards on their civil nuclear activities. For states parties to the Convention on Nuclear Safety (which includes all countries that operate nuclear power plants, except Iran), they are obliged to undergo peer reviews based on IAEA safety standards.

For nuclear security, however, no such role exists for the IAEA. Some countries insist that security is not part of the agency’s mandate, only safeguards and safety. Yet there is overlap between these two areas and nuclear security. How, for example, can one can talk about the safety of radiological sources without also including their protection and secure handling? Or protecting nuclear material from being diverted or traded illegally, taking into account the role of safeguards in ensuring only legitimate uses of such material?

Bit by bit, the pieces of a coherent nuclear security regime are being assembled. The IAEA offers International Physical Protection Advisory Services, along with Nuclear Security Guidelines. The agency is also the compiler of the Incidents and Trafficking Database. The Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material is signed, though not yet in force.

In short, it’s still a patchwork of agreements and initiatives with no unifying international legal framework. Many actions and commitments are voluntary for states, not binding. This non-binding dimension is not ideal when it comes to giving strong and transparent assurances to others that one’s own nuclear security house is fully and circumspectly in order.

So, given this background, what were some of the achievements of the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit?

NSS Achievements

One thing heard often at both NSS and NIS discussions was that a harmful event involving nuclear materials anywhere can be considered to be a harmful event everywhere. The direct interrelationship between the security of nuclear materials in one country and its impact on other countries is clearly recognized by political and industry leaders alike.

The NSS allowed individual countries to show what they have done domestically and internationally to improve nuclear security. It also produced numerous pledges to do more by the time of the next summit in 2016. Canada showed itself very well in both instances.

The summit also made ground in “strengthening the international nuclear security architecture,” possibly by developing by 2016 the outlines of a unifying framework or instrument. In addition, a block of countries stepped forward to accept peer reviews as a means of demonstrating their intent to improve both transparency as well as the level and effectiveness of their national nuclear security measures. And the IAEA is now clearly the lead international institution to support and promote nuclear security.

The NSS encouraged: the minimization of stocks of Highly Enriched Uranium and separated plutonium; the minimization of HEU use through conversion of reactor fuel from HEU to LEU; efforts to use non-HEU technologies for the production of radio-isotopes; protection of high-activity radiological sources; the investigation of alternative technologies for such production; and security plans for spent fuel and radioactive waste.

Implications for Industry

The NSS made it clear that nuclear industry had “a crucial role to play in maintaining and strengthening nuclear security.”

Operators should put strong emphasis on effective safety and security culture, physical protection, and material accountancy. They should undergo regular and routine tests and evaluations, in line with the “principle of continuous improvement.” The summit leaders also emphasized the importance of information and cyber security, underlining that further exchanges between government, industry and academia were desirable.

However, it was in the Nuclear Industry Summit (NIS) that more specific measures for industry were identified. The NIS issued a Joint Declaration, as well as the reports of three working groups. Working Group 1 (under the chairmanship of Bruce Power CEO Duncan Hawthorne) dealt with corporate governance. Working Group 2 (chaired by Luc Oustel of Areva) examined enhancing of Information and cyber security.  Working Group 3 (chaired by Adi Paterson of ANSTO) looked at further reducing HEU and strengthening controls over highly active radiological sources.

The NIS Joint Declaration committed industry participants to:

  • Promoting a strong security culture
  • Ensuring that all personnel with accountabilities for security must be demonstrably competent
  • Clearly designating accountability for security
  • Conducting routine evaluations of the sufficiency of security provisions
  • Extending the spirit of cooperation and sharing of good practices
  • Reinforcing industry collaboration on cyber security topics
  • Fostering development of high-density fuel (LEU production of radio-isotopes)

Canadian Role

From a Canadian perspective, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced at the Nuclear Security Summit several initiatives and commitments that may have a bearing on industry. Canada is committed to:

  • Eliminating the use of HEU in the production of medical isotopes by 2016
  • Continuing the process of repatriation of its U.S.-origin HEU fuel by 2018
  • Minimizing HEU by providing technical support for a reactor conversion and cleanout project in Jamaica

In addition, Canada will undertake further nuclear and radiological security programming through the Global Partnership Program to: enhance physical security of nuclear and radiological materials in Southeast Asia; prevent loss, theft, and malicious use of radioactive sources, particularly those of Canadian origin, in Latin America and Africa; and combat illicit trafficking by enhancing detection capabilities in the Americas.

The prime minister also announced government co-funding of a Bruce Power and the World Institute for Nuclear Security (WINS) project to develop senior-level training courses and instruction methodologies relating to nuclear security. The new WINS Academy was unveiled at the 2014 NSS and NIS Summits. The Academy is launching a Security Certification Programme, “The Route to Demonstrable Competence,” which is targeted at professionals who have management responsibilities for nuclear and radiological materials.

Furthermore, under The Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT), Canada will undertake a nuclear forensics initiative in partnership with a number of international partners, including Israel, the Netherlands and the US.

In the National Progress Report prepared by the Canadian government for the 2014 NSS, there is mention that Canada is undertaking a comprehensive national project designed to promote the development of a national nuclear forensics capability. To this end, Canada is participating as a programme committee member for the forthcoming International Conference on Advances in Nuclear Forensics. As regards cyber security, Canada is working towards the development and issuance of a national standard for cyber protection.

Furthermore, Canada is examining the potential to develop a Centre of Excellence to connect expertise from government, industry, regulators and academic institutions. The document also notes that both government and industry representatives are actively involved in the development of international recommendations, guidance and best practice guides for enhancing nuclear security, through the IAEA and WINS.

Quick Takeaways

What I drew in particular from the combination of the 2 summit meetings (NSS and NIS) was an emphasis on the following nuclear security areas:

  • Education, training and awareness-raising are key in developing a corporate and institutional “nuclear security culture”
  • Peer review and compliance, while still voluntary in many parts of the international nuclear security architecture, are essential and will be pursued and strengthened
  • Collaboration with industry is important, especially in promoting a nuclear security culture, raising the actual levels of physical protection, and dealing with increasingly salient cyber-security issues
  • There is growing recognition of the interface between safety and security and of how the latter can learn from the former
  • The IAEA is increasingly accepted as the focal point in future for improvements in the practice of nuclear security and in building an international nuclear security architecture
  • Focus is being put on improved detection methods and forensic technologies
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