U.S.-Russian Naval Security Upgrades

Article excerpt

Lessons Learned and the Way Ahead

For a decade, the U.S. Department of Energy has worked cooperatively with Russia to install modern nuclear security systems for weapons-usable material. The effort is known as the Material Protection, Control, and Accounting (MPC&A) program; its mission is to reduce the threat of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism by rapidly improving the security of all weapons-usable nuclear material in forms other than nuclear weapons in Russia, the NIS (newly independent states), and the Baltics.1 The program has substantially increased security for large amounts of vulnerable nuclear material.2 Hardening storage facilities against outside but also, even especially, inside threats is a high priority. Site-tailored and integrated enhancements include such features as entry/exit barriers and control measures (such as traps, gates, locks, and portal monitors), personnel access controls, intrusion detection systems, alarm communications, video surveillance, response measures, and computerized systems for nuclear material accounting.3

Notwithstanding successes achieved against the threat of nuclear theft, however, the bulk of the proliferation challenge remains; hundreds of metric tons of nuclear material lack improved security systems. As of March 2003, the Department of Energy (DoE) had assisted Russia in protecting about 228 metric tons, or 38 percent, of its weapons-usable nuclear material.4 The vast majority of the remaining material is at sites in the nuclear weapons complex where, due to Russian national security concerns, access has been limited and DoE has not been able to initiate work.

The Department of Energy alone now administers in Russia more than a dozen distinct nonproliferation programs designed to reduce the risk of nuclear material or expertise falling into the hands of terrorist organizations and "states of concern."5 But there has been an unfortunate tendency to view the various nonproliferation programs one by one rather than all together. According to Leonard S. Spector, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Energy for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, there is a need for an approach that recognizes and addresses cross-program synergy, impacts, and investment opportunities.6 Indeed, in March 2003 the U.S. General Accounting Office recommended that the DoE reevaluate its plans for securing Russia's nuclear material and, with DoD, develop an integrated plan to ensure coordination of efforts to secure Russia's nuclear warheads.7

This article examines the sources of the extraordinary progress of the naval security upgrades for the fresh, unirradiated naval fuel and nuclear weapons, and attempts to balance justified security concerns with the need for openness. The progress made suggests that valuable lessons can be learned from the U.S.-Russian naval security upgrade program, lessons that could improve on the mere formalization of access substitutes and contribute to other security upgrades as well, possibly even to other nuclear nonproliferation activities.

Inherent and legitimate security concerns, however, effectively limit the information that can be made public from the naval MPC&A program. In fact, the progress to date could not have been made had not the American and Russian sides found an effective way to share and at the same time protect sensitive information.

The assessment is based on interactions with key personnel and on the (limited) open-source information available on naval MPC&A upgrades. The article starts with a brief overview and a summary of the historical background and current status; it then proceeds to an evaluation of the pros and cons of the naval MPC&A approach. The final section describes future challenges and steps, and presents recommendations for applying elsewhere the experience of naval Material Protection, Control, and Accounting.


From the very beginning, access to Russian nuclear sites has been a significant stumbling block for U. …