Comprehensive Nuclear Material Accounting

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Existing national and international standards for accounting for nuclear materials, including those designated for military use, are insufficient to meet current and future nuclear security, nonproliferation, and weapons reduction demands. Improved accounting practices are needed to provide reliable assurance that nuclear materials designated for peaceful use have not been diverted to state-level nuclear weapons programs or stolen by non-state actors, as well as to deter or detect diversion or the, were it to occur. Implementing an effective and efficient comprehensive, global nuclear accounting system is also a critical element of creating the conditions for future nuclear security if global nuclear energy use increases as part of the effort to mitigate climate change and countries make deep cuts to, or potentially eliminate, their stockpiles of nuclear weapons and nuclear materials designated for military use.

Policy makers from around the globe have recognized the importance of ensuring that all countries with nuclear materials or weapons practice high standards of material control and accounting (MC&A), but the emphasis of current initiatives to improve MC&A has been on national laws and regulations—and primarily in states without nuclear weapons. States have yet to develop comprehensive requirements that address the full scope of nuclear risks and that are meant to be adopted by all states—including nuclear weapons states.

This study examines a range of current material accounting practices and requirements and argues that in order for MC&A to fully perform the functions necessary to reduce global nuclear risks to an acceptably low level, its emphasis needs to transition from ensuring the non-diversion of nuclear materials to military uses to providing positive inventory control of nuclear materials, whereby national and international authorities can actively account for the location and form of all designated nuclear materials on a continuous and detailed basis.