Nuclear Nonproliferation:

U.S. International Nuclear Materials Tracking Capabilities Are Limited

RCED/AIMD-95-5: Published: Dec 27, 1994. Publicly Released: Jan 26, 1995.

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Victor S. Rezendes
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed how the United States tracks its exported civilian nuclear materials and ensures their physical protection, focusing on the: (1) capabilities of the Department of Energy's (DOE) computerized Nuclear Materials Management and Safeguards System (NMMSS) to track the international movement of nuclear materials; and (2) adequacy of DOE planned new NMMSS.

GAO found that: (1) the United States relies primarily on NMMSS to track exported nuclear materials, but the system does not have enough information to track all nuclear materials that are supplied to foreign countries; (2) the reliability of NMMSS data depends on the data reported under international agreements, as well as foreign countries' willingness to report complete and accurate data; (3) the new NMMSS will replicate current NMMSS functions and contain the same tracking limitations that currently exist; (4) DOE has not adequately planned the development effort for the new NMMSS and cannot ensure that the new NMMSS will meet users' needs; (5) neither the current nor planned new NMMSS can provide data on nuclear materials of foreign origin; (6) DOE collects information on nuclear materials worldwide through other sources that may not always be accurate; (7) the U.S. government's ability to ensure that exported nuclear materials are adequately protected is contingent on foreign countries' cooperation; and (8) while the United States conducts on-site evaluations of foreign countries' physical protection systems, recommendations that may result from these visits are not binding on the country.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: According to the Department of Energy, it is neither programmatically sound nor cost-effective to delay its effort to transition from the aging existing system to the new Nuclear Materials Management and Safeguards System. Any further extensions will cost DOE in excess of $1 million per month, with diminishing benefits. DOE does not intend to conduct a cost-benefit analysis, as recommended by GAO.

    Recommendation: Before investing further resources in the new NMMSS, the Secretary of Energy should direct the Office of Arms Control and Nonproliferation to determine users' requirements, investigate alternatives, conduct cost-benefit analyses, and develop a plant to meet any identified needs, either through enhancing the new NMMSS or designing a different system.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy


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