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Highlights

The United States has exported special nuclear material, including enriched uranium, and source material such as natural uranium under nuclear cooperation agreements. The United States has 27 nuclear cooperation agreements for peaceful civilian cooperation. Under the U.S. Atomic Energy Act of 1954 (AEA), as amended, partners are required to guarantee the physical protection of U.S. nuclear material. GAO was asked to (1) assess U.S. agency efforts to account for U.S. nuclear material overseas, (2) assess the Department of Energy's (DOE) and U.S. agencies' efforts to evaluate the security of U.S. material overseas, and (3) describe DOE's activities to secure or remove potentially vulnerable U.S. nuclear material at partner facilities. GAO analyzed agency records and interviewed DOE, Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Department of State (State), and partner country officials. This report summarizes GAO's classified report issued in June 2011.

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Recommendations

Matter for Congressional Consideration

Matter Status Comments
Congress may wish to consider directing DOE and NRC to complete a full accounting of U.S. weapon-usable nuclear materials--in particular, HEU and separated plutonium--with its nuclear cooperation agreement partners and other countries that may possess such U.S. nuclear material.
Closed - Implemented
Since our report, DOE completed an initial inventory of U.S.-origin HEU overseas, as published in a June 2013 Global Threat Reduction Initiative report. DOE representatives told us, and a DOE document notes, that this effort was undertaken in response to GAO's recommendation. In addition, in June 2017 DOE officials reported to us that the agency had begun efforts to complete a reconciliation of U.S. plutonium overseas, and indicated that the effort would take a number of years to fully complete. Given the action at the relevant agency, GAO is closing this Matter for Congress as implemented.
Congress may wish to consider amending the AEA if State, working with other U.S. agencies, does not include enhanced measures regarding physical protection access rights in future agreements and renewed agreements, so that U.S. interagency physical protection teams may obtain access when necessary to verify that U.S. nuclear materials have adequate physical protection. The amendment could provide that the U.S. government may not enter into nuclear cooperation agreements unless such agreements contain provisions allowing the United States to verify that adequate physical security is exercised over nuclear material subject to the terms of these agreements.
Closed - Not Implemented
As of September 2016, Congress has not taken action on this suggestion. GAO will continue to monitor any activity to implement this suggestion. However, in the interim we are closing this suggestion to Congress as not implemented.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of State To help federal agencies better understand where U.S. nuclear material is currently located overseas, and to strengthen controls over U.S. nuclear material subject to nuclear cooperation agreements, the Secretary of State, working with the Secretary of Energy and the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, should determine, for those partners with which the United States has transferred material but does not have annual inventory reconciliation, a baseline inventory of weapon-usable U.S. nuclear material, and establish a process for conducting annual reconciliations of inventories of nuclear material on a facility-by-facility basis.
Closed - Implemented
Since our report, DOE completed an initial inventory of U.S.-origin HEU overseas, as published in a June 2013 Global Threat Reduction Initiative report. DOE representatives told us, and a DOE document notes, that this effort was undertaken in response to GAO's recommendation. In addition, in June 2017 DOE officials reported to us that the agency had begun efforts to complete a reconciliation of U.S. plutonium overseas, and indicated that the effort would take a number of years to fully complete. These actions are consistent with the recommendation and we are closing it as implemented.
Department of State To help federal agencies better understand where U.S. nuclear material is currently located overseas, and to strengthen controls over U.S. nuclear material subject to nuclear cooperation agreements, the Secretary of State, working with the Secretary of Energy and the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, should establish for those partners with which the United States has an annual inventory reconciliation, reporting on a facility-by-facility basis for weapon-usable material where possible.
Closed - Not Implemented
As of September 2016, neither State nor DOE or NRC have taken action to develop facility-by-facility annual reporting for weapon-usable nuclear materials. GAO will continue to monitor agency actions toward this recommendation. However, in the meantime, we are closing this recommendation as not implemented.
Department of State To help federal agencies better understand where U.S. nuclear material is currently located overseas, and to strengthen controls over U.S. nuclear material subject to nuclear cooperation agreements, the Secretary of State, working with the Secretary of Energy and the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, should facilitate visits to sites that U.S. physical protection teams have not visited that are believed to be holding U.S. Category I nuclear material.
Closed - Implemented
U.S. interagency physical protection teams visit partner country facilities to monitor and evaluate whether the physical protection provided to U.S. nuclear material meets International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) physical security guidelines. The U.S. teams visit certain facilities where U.S. nuclear material is used or stored to observe physical protection measures after discussing the relevant nuclear security regulatory framework with the partner government, and make recommendations for upgrading the physical protection of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium at vulnerable sites. Our September 2011 report (GAO-11-920) found that U.S. interagency physical protection teams had neither met a key programmatic goal for visiting countries containing Category I quantities of U.S. special nuclear material every 5 years, nor had they visited all partner facilities believed to be holding Category I quantities of U.S. nuclear material. Since that report, U.S. agency teams have worked to visit all countries containing Category I quantities of U.S. nuclear material within the last five years. In addition, other DOE records indicate since that report, U.S. teams visited all sites holding Category I quantities of U.S. nuclear material to the extent practicable given access concerns, and completed the corrective action to the extent possible in fiscal year 2014. In July 2015 DOE officials stated that these actions were partly in response to GAO's recommendation, and DOE reported to GAO that it had taken final corrective actions toward this recommendation and closed it in September 2014.
Department of State To help federal agencies better understand where U.S. nuclear material is currently located overseas, and to strengthen controls over U.S. nuclear material subject to nuclear cooperation agreements, the Secretary of State, working with the Secretary of Energy and the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, should seek to include measures that provide for physical protection access rights in new or renewed nuclear cooperation agreements so that U.S. interagency physical protection teams may in the future obtain access when necessary to verify that U.S. nuclear materials are adequately protected. Careful consideration should be given to the impact of any reciprocity clauses on U.S. national security when negotiating or reviewing these agreements.
Closed - Not Implemented
In August 2015 State Department officials reported to GAO that it had not taken action on this recommendation because it did not believe partner countries would accept such a measure. In addition, our review of nuclear cooperation agreements with partner countries that have been submitted for Congressional review and come into force since our report indicates they do not contain the recommended measures. Although GAO continues to believe this recommendation has merit, we are closing it as not implemented since we do not foresee further movement on this recommendation in the near term.
Department of Energy The Secretary of Energy, working with the Secretary of State, and the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission should develop an official central repository to maintain data regarding U.S. inventories of nuclear material overseas. This repository could be the Nuclear Materials Management and Safeguards System (NMMSS) database, or if the U.S. agencies so determine, some other official database.
Closed - Not Implemented
As of September 2016, neither DOE nor NRC or State have taken action to implement this recommendation. GAO will continue to monitor any agency effort to implement the recommendation. However, until such action is taken we are closing the recommendation as not implemented.
Department of Energy The Secretary of Energy, working with the Secretary of State, and the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission should develop formal goals for and a systematic process to determine which foreign facilities to visit for future interagency physical protection visits. The goals and process should be formalized and agreed to by all relevant agencies.
Closed - Implemented
Our September 2011 report (GAO-11-920) found that U.S. agencies did not have a formal process for coordinating and prioritizing physical protection visits. We recommended that DOE work with U.S. agencies to develop formal goals for and a process to determine which foreign facilities to visit in the future, and we noted the goals should be formalized as agreed to by all agencies. U.S. interagency physical protection teams visit partner country facilities to monitor and evaluate whether the physical protection provided to U.S. nuclear material meets IAEA physical security guidelines. The U.S. teams visit certain facilities where U.S. nuclear material is used or stored to observe physical protection measures after discussing the relevant nuclear security regulatory framework with the partner government, and make recommendations for upgrading the physical protection of HEU and plutonium at vulnerable sites. Since that report, DOE has worked with U.S. agencies to develop a formal methodology to prioritize physical protection visits. The methodology calls for a quantitative analysis of four criteria for prioritization for visits, and is detailed in a document published in September 2012 by DOE's Office of Nuclear Safeguards and Security. DOE representatives told us that DOE and U.S. agencies undertook this effort in response to GAO's recommendation. In addition, in July 2015 DOE officials reported to us that it had completed all actions necessary to implement this action in September 2014.
Department of Energy The Secretary of Energy, working with the Secretary of State, and the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission should periodically review performance in meeting key programmatic goals for the physical protection program, including determining which countries containing Category I U.S. nuclear material have been visited within the last 5 years, as well as determining whether partner facilities previously found to not meet International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) security guidelines were revisited in a timely manner.
Closed - Implemented
U.S. interagency physical protection teams visit partner country facilities to monitor and evaluate whether the physical protection provided to U.S. nuclear material meets International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) physical security guidelines. The U.S. teams visit certain facilities where U.S. nuclear material is used or stored to observe physical protection measures after discussing the relevant nuclear security regulatory framework with the partner government, and make recommendations for upgrading the physical protection of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium at vulnerable sites. Our September 2011 report (GAO-11-920) found that U.S. interagency physical protection teams had neither met a key programmatic goal for visiting countries containing Category I quantities of U.S. special nuclear material every 5 years, nor had they visited all partner facilities believed to be holding Category I quantities of U.S. nuclear material. Since that report, U.S. agency teams have worked to visit all countries containing Category I quantities of U.S. nuclear material within the last five years. In addition, other DOE records indicate that U.S. teams have visited almost all sites holding Category I quantities of U.S. nuclear material when granted permission to visit. Further, in July 2015 DOE reported to GAO that it had taken final corrective actions toward this recommendation and closed it in September 2014.

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