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State Department Fact Sheet on Basics of Nuclear Security
March 22, 2012

Nuclear Security 101
Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation

Washington, D.C.

The goal of United States Government’s nuclear security programs is the prevention of the illegal possession, use or transfer of nuclear material or other radioactive material. Successful nuclear security relies on an interconnected combination of technology, policy, operational concepts and international collaboration to prevent acts of nuclear terrorism.

The Basics of Nuclear Security include:

  • Removing or Eliminating Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) and separated plutonium. Only when nuclear material is completely removed from a site is the threat of nuclear theft completely eliminated because the removal results in permanent threat reduction. HEU and separated plutonium removal and/or disposition is an important effort in securing vulnerable nuclear material worldwide. Twenty-eight nations have plans to eliminate all current stocks of HEU by the end of 2013.
  • Upgrading security measures, including physical protection, material control and accounting, at nuclear material and warhead sites around the world to prevent the loss or theft of nuclear material.
  • Converting civilian commercial reactors and isotope production facilities to use Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) fuel and targets to reduce global reliance on HEU for research, energy and medical isotopes. Reducing the amount of WMD-usable HEU in the civilian fuel cycle minimizes the threat of nuclear terrorism.
  • Deploying radiation detection capabilities, as well as providing training and sustainability support, at high-risk land, sea and air border crossings and strategic locations to provide a backstop to the nuclear site security systems and increases the likelihood that stolen nuclear material will be detected and seized.
  • Formulating and implementing international and domestic nuclear nonproliferation strategies, policies, and treaties to combat nuclear terrorism along with international partners.
  • Advancing technologies to detect and characterize foreign nuclear weapons programs through continued research and development in the field. Diverting special nuclear materials, strengthening verification and monitoring capabilities for nuclear arms control treaties, and enhancing global nuclear security.
  • Advancing nuclear forensics capabilities to trace the origin of seized materials or devices, help identify smuggling networks and aid prosecution efforts of such illicit trafficking, pinpoint vulnerabilities in security measures to ensure nuclear and other radioactive materials remain secured, and build and harmonize foreign nuclear forensics capabilities.

Nuclear Security vs. Nuclear Safety: Nuclear security pertains to the prevention of nuclear material theft, nuclear smuggling and terrorism while nuclear safety deals with the practices and safeguards to keep nuclear facilities and workers safe.