Some countries have inadequate security at their nuclear facilities making them vulnerable to sabotage and the nuclear materials within them vulnerable to theft.
The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), DOD, and other agencies are working to help secure international nuclear materials. For instance, the U.S. is helping other countries increase facility security and counter nuclear smuggling around the world.
But we found that a few of NNSA's and DOD's security programs overlap and could be duplicative. We recommended that NNSA and DOD clarify and document roles and responsibilities when working in the same countries.
Weapon Usable Nuclear Material (WUNM) and Nuclear Facilities Around the World
What GAO Found
Federal officials and nuclear security experts identified existing risks to the security of nuclear materials worldwide, such as inadequate physical security at facilities containing these materials. Officials and experts also identified trends that could exacerbate risks, such as advancements in cyber capabilities.
GAO identified federal programs, including those under the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and Department of Defense (DOD), which are taking steps to address these risks. These steps include increasing facility security, countering nuclear smuggling, and reducing the use of weapon usable nuclear material in civilian nuclear applications. However, challenges exist in carrying out this work. For example, for selected countries with security risks, the state of bilateral relations limits U.S. efforts to secure international nuclear materials.
U.S. Program Efforts to Secure Nuclear Materials, including Weapon Usable Nuclear Material (WUNM), Fiscal Years (FY) 2021 and 2022
Of the 23 programs GAO reviewed, some conduct similar work in the same countries, and GAO found that where programs overlap, they generally coordinate with one another. However, GAO found that a few of the overlapping programs did not clearly document their roles and responsibilities, as called for in leading practices for collaboration. For example, a DOD program has plans to undertake nuclear security capacity-building efforts in two countries where NNSA programs are undertaking similar efforts. NNSA officials identified the potential for these efforts to be duplicative, if roles are not further clarified.
The National Security Council (NSC) is developing a national strategy related to international nuclear material security, but it is uncertain how this strategy will guide agency and program efforts. By developing a national strategy that includes implementation guidance for agencies and programs, NSC can help program managers make informed decisions to align and prioritize their current and future activities with the nuclear material security goals articulated in the strategy.
Why GAO Did This Study
According to NNSA, there is enough nuclear material around the world to make tens of thousands of nuclear weapons. Some of this material is in countries facing significant security challenges. The theft of nuclear materials or sabotage of a nuclear facility could result in a dangerous release of radiation.
GAO was asked to review U.S. efforts to secure international nuclear materials. This report (1) describes the risks to securing international nuclear materials identified by federal officials and experts; (2) examines the extent to which federal programs address these risks; and (3) assesses the extent to which U.S. agencies plan and coordinate their nuclear material security programs, and a national strategy exists to help ensure alignment of programs' objectives. GAO reviewed relevant plans and program documentation and interviewed federal officials and nongovernmental experts.
GAO is making three recommendations, including that NNSA and DOD programs follow leading collaboration practices to clarify and document roles and responsibilities when working in the same countries, and that NSC's future national strategy include guidance for agencies to align their activities with the strategy's goals. NNSA and DOD agreed with GAO's recommendations; NSC did not comment. This is a public version of a Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) report that GAO issued in December 2022. Information that NNSA and NSC deemed CUI has been omitted.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|National Nuclear Security Administration
|The NNSA Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation should clarify and document the roles and responsibilities for programs that work to address similar issues in the same countries as other federal programs to avoid program overlap or duplication, especially with DOD's Cooperative Threat Reduction programs. (Recommendation 1)
Closed – Implemented
|Department of Defense
|The DOD Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear and Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Policy should clarify and document the roles and responsibilities for programs that work to address similar issues in the same countries as other federal programs to avoid program overlap or duplication, especially with NNSA's Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation programs. (Recommendation 2)
Closed – Implemented
|National Security Council
|The Chairman of the National Security Council, or their designee, should ensure that the forthcoming national strategy incorporates the desirable characteristics of a national strategy, including clarifying and documenting appropriate roles and responsibilities between agencies and programs in addressing nuclear material security risks and providing implementation guidance for agencies and programs to align their activities and future plans with the strategy's goals and objectives. (Recommendation 3)