Nuclear Nonproliferation:

Security of Russia's Nuclear Material Improving; Further Enhancements Needed

GAO-01-312: Published: Feb 28, 2001. Publicly Released: Mar 29, 2001.

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The Department of Energy (DOE) is improving security of 192 metric tons of weapons-usable nuclear material in Russia by installing modern security systems that detect, delay, and respond to attempts to steal nuclear material. These systems, while not as stringent as those installed in the United States, are designed to reduce the risk of nuclear material theft at Russian sites. While Russia and the United States have worked cooperatively to reduce the risk of theft in Russia, Russian officials' concerns about divulging national security information continue to impede DOE's efforts to install systems for several hundred metric tons of nuclear material at sensitive Russian sites. Continued progress in reducing the risk of nuclear material theft in Russia hinges on DOE's ability to gain access to Russia's sensitive sites and reach agreement with the Ministry of Atomic Energy to reduce the number of sites and buildings where nuclear material is located. DOE currently does not have a means to periodically monitor the systems to ensure that they are operating properly on a continued basis. Such as mechanism would provide DOE officials with increased confidence that the security systems are reducing the risk of nuclear material theft. The strategic plan developed by DOE should provide an estimate of how much sustainability assistance is required on the basis of an analysis of the costs to operate and maintain the systems and the sites' ability to cover these costs. In addition, the plan should provide options for completing the program on the basis of the progress made on gaining access to sensitive sites and the closure of buildings and sites.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE has developed a system of joint U.S./Russian visits to monitor the success and maintainability of the systems. In addition, DOE is developing a system that will integrate all of the monitoring efforts currently undertaken at individual sites, and is investigating the use of unattended monitoring equipment to increase DOE's confidence in systems operations DOE also established a program to enhance performance testing.

    Recommendation: In order to assist DOE in its mission of promoting nuclear proliferation and reducing the danger from weapons of mass destruction, the Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration should develop a system, in cooperation with the Russian government, to monitor, on a long-term basis, the security systems installed at the RUssian sites to ensure that they continue to detect, delay, and respond to attempts to steal nuclear material.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy: National Nuclear Security Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE has developed a strategic plan and has incorporated the requirements for sustainability, cost estimates, and an exit strategy into the plan as GAO recommended.

    Recommendation: In order to assist DOE in its mission of promoting nuclear proliferation and reducing the danger from weapons of mass destruction, the Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration should include in the strategic plan being developed by DOE (1) an estimate of how much sustainability is required on the basis of an analysis of the costs to operate and maintain the systems and the sites' ability to cover these costs and (2) options for completing the program on the basis of the progress being made in gaining access to sensitive sites and on the closure of buildings and sites.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy: National Nuclear Security Administration

 

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