the amendment then under consideration to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials1 also constituted progress.2

Despite these positive developments, however, Curtis argued that it is important to acknowledge several painful truths in order to see the danger clearly. First, given the broad distribution of knowledge and technical expertise related to nuclear materials and weapons, it is possible for a well-funded sub-national group to build a nuclear explosive if they obtain a sufficient quantity of enriched uranium, or possibly plutonium, of the appropriate isotopic composition. Second, plutonium produced in civilian nuclear energy programs and highly enriched uranium at research reactor facilities is at risk.3 Third, physical security for nuclear materials around the world is inadequate. Fourth, existing safeguards that are intended to prevent the diversion of nuclear materials from civilian to military use are inadequate, particularly with regard to fuel cycle facilities. Fifth, three states that are not NPT members—India, Pakistan, and Israel—have nuclear weapons and materials, and these capacities should be safely secured and controlled. Finally, it must be acknowledged that a solution to the problem of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program has not been found.4

Curtis argued that the top priority in efforts to counter nuclear terrorism threats should be to secure nuclear weapons and materials at their sources. To help accomplish this goal, the United States and Russia, as well as other states with nuclear energy capabilities, should actively share their expertise and the benefits of their experience—share “best practices”—with each other. In particular, the United States and Russia should organize a joint team of scientific, technical, and military experts to compile a list of best practices that will be shared with any other state that has nuclear weapons or weapon-usable fissile


The Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials (CPPNM) is the only legally binding agreement on physical protection of nuclear material. It requires signatories to ensure adequate physical protection for nuclear material during transport and in other circumstances. For more information, see, accessed June 26, 2005.


Rapporteur’s note: the April 2004 adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1540 is another relevant example. The resolution, which is mandatory for all UN Member States, requires that acts involving weapons of mass destruction—including malevolent acts involving nuclear materials and proliferation—be treated as criminal acts by the state in which the acts take place.


Research reactors are nuclear reactors whose primary function is to support nuclear, medical, or other research rather than to produce energy. Research reactors tend to have a much smaller thermal output than power reactors, but they sometimes use very highly enriched uranium fuel. Many research reactors and their fresh and spent fuel are located at research institutes and university laboratories where they may not receive the level of security that is afforded other highly enriched uranium.


Nonproliferation experts were unsure about the status of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program at the time this workshop was held in September 2003, and remain so today. During the time since the workshop took place, North Korea’s claim that it has a few nuclear weapons has gained more credence but has not been conclusively established.

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