Nuclear Nonproliferation:

Status of U.S. Efforts to Improve Nuclear Material Controls in Newly Independent States

NSIAD/RCED-96-89: Published: Mar 8, 1996. Publicly Released: Mar 13, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed U.S. efforts to strengthen controls over nuclear materials in the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union, focusing on the: (1) nature and extent of problems with controlling direct-use nuclear materials in the newly independent states; (2) status and future prospects of U.S. efforts in Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus; and (3) executive branch's consolidation of U.S. efforts in the Department of Energy (DOE).

GAO found that: (1) the Soviet Union produced about 1,200 metric tons of highly enriched uranium and 200 metric tons of plutonium; (2) much of this material is outside of nuclear weapons and is highly attractive to theft, and the newly independent states may not have accurate and complete inventories of the material they inherited; (3) with the breakdown of Soviet-era material protection, control, and accounting (MPC&A) systems, the newly independent states may not be as able to counter the increased threat of theft; (4) nuclear facilities cannot quickly detect and localize nuclear material losses or detect unauthorized attempts to remove nuclear material; (5) while there is not yet direct evidence of a black market for nuclear material in the newly independent states, the seizures of direct-use material in Russia and Europe have increased concerns about theft and diversion; (6) U.S. efforts to help the newly independent states improve their MPC&A systems for direct-use material started slowly; (7) the Department of Defense's (DOD) government-to-government Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program obligated $59 million and spent about $4 million from fiscal years (FY) 1991 to 1995 for MPC&A improvements in Russia, Ukraine, Kazakstan, and Belarus, and provided working group meetings, site surveys, physical protection equipment, computers, and training; (8) the program began to gain momentum in January 1995 when CTR program and Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy (MINATOM) officials agreed to upgrade nuclear material controls at five high-priority facilities handling direct-use material; (9) DOE and Russia's nuclear regulatory agency have also agreed to cooperate on the development of a national MPC&A regulatory infrastructure; (10) DOE's lab-to-lab program, which obligated $17 million and spent $14 million in FY 1994 and 1995, has improved controls at two zero-power research reactors, and begun providing nuclear material monitors to several MINATOM defense facilities to help them detect unauthorized attempts to remove direct-use material; (11) in FY 1996, the program is implementing additional projects in MINATOM's nuclear defense complex; (12) the United States expanded the MPC&A assistance program in FY 1996 to include all known facilities with direct-use material outside of weapons; (13) management and funding for the expanded program were consolidated within DOE, which plans to request $400 million over 7 years for the program; and (14) DOE is responding to uncertainties involving the program's overall costs and U.S. ability to verify that assistance is used as intended by developing a long-term plan and a centralized cost reporting system and implementing a flexible audit and examination program.

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