The previous chapters have focused on how technical aspects of proliferation risk and the various method assessments are of utility to policy makers and decision makers. The logical next question then is how are proliferation resistance and risk findings communicated between all relevant groups and where are the difficulties in this intergroup communication? In this chapter, the committee offers recommendations to improve communication between different relevant groups, including technical analysts to decision makers; technical analysts to each other domestically and internationally; government decision makers to their international counterparts; and government decision makers communicating with stakeholders (task 5 of the study charge):
TASK 5: Identify and assess options for effectively communicating proliferation risk information to government and industry decision makers, as well as to the public and the nongovernmental organization (NGO) community both within the United States and internationally.
The audience for proliferation risk information includes U.S. and other governments and industry decision makers, NGOs, journalists and other media, as well as the general public. Among these groups, there is great diversity in technical and political understanding, attitudes about nuclear energy, and access to information. Examples of these likely interactions between these groups include
• technical analysts communicating with government sponsors and decision makers;
• technical analysts communicating with each other and international counterparts;
• government decision makers communicating with international counterparts; and
• government decision makers communicating with U.S. and international nuclear industry, the public, and the NGO community.
This breadth and diversity poses numerous challenges for effective communication, including
• different access to classified or sensitive information
• different levels of technical ability and political understanding, and
• clarifying the critical issues without oversimplification of a complex technology or political situation.
Complicating all these challenges is the fact that the term “proliferation risk” is not widely understood, nor does it have a universally agreed definition. The terms “proliferation risk” and “proliferation resistance” frequently are used interchangeably and incorrectly when discussing nuclear energy systems. In addition, “proliferation resistance” is sometimes incorrectly construed to mean “proliferation-resistant” or “proliferation-proof” Confusion about terminology affects both technical analysts and government decision makers. Clarifying terminology at the outset of any discussion and using it consistently would significantly improve communication.
For each of the groups listed above, several communication options are presented and assessed.
Technical Analysts/Government Sponsors
This may be the least challenging of the communication groups listed because these two entities have a mutual interest and a common goal: the government sponsors have provided funding to study a particular topic, and the technical analysts are presenting the results.
Communicating effectively to decision makers is a critical step in ensuring that proliferation risk information is understood correctly, used appropriately, and well integrated with other factors affecting decisions. Many technical assessments are designed to address questions posed by a government sponsor about the risk of a nuclear technology or capability in the context of a particular country or region. Such assessments are frequently performed by a multidisciplinary team of subject matter experts established on a case-by-case basis that includes both technical and country specialists, and often are conducted in close collaboration with the intelligence community. In briefings and discussions, the committee observed that decision makers, the intelligence community, and the technical community seemed to communicate effectively about such assessment results.
Communicating the results of technical assessments made using predefined frameworks is more challenging. Policy makers are wary of methodologies that assign absolute or numerical values to complex problems. They are concerned that a seemingly “quantitative” result would determine a policy decision. To improve communication about such assessments, technical analysts could be particularly clear that they are assessing proliferation resistance, rather than risk, and that predefined frameworks provide a structured approach for comparing the technical features of different generalized fuel cycles. They could describe the attributes they have chosen in a determination of proliferation resistance, the assumptions underlying the analysis, the limitations of the methodology, and the credentials of the experts whose judgment has
contributed to the results. As was noted earlier with other assessment tools, the decision makers could be involved in the technical assessment process. This is particularly important because the frameworks have been (incorrectly) understood to be objective models.
For both of the assessment approaches listed above, results could be communicated more clearly as relative to the once-through fuel cycle (or other fuel cycles in existence today) and uncertainties in the results should be clearly carried through the analysis and could be displayed and described in the results. The results should not be presented as or understood to be final, because all such assessments have a limited lifespan, and as with case-by-case assessments, they will need to be performed again periodically because circumstances will change. Analysts should also refrain from technical jargon and exhibit an understanding that decisions about proliferation risk involve more than technical considerations.
Technical Analysts/Other Analysts (International Counterparts)
The structured approach of predefined frameworks has facilitated communication among technical experts from different countries, by providing a common lexicon and structure for discussing proliferation resistance and ways to increase it. This could ease communication among analysts advising governments (the U.S. and other governments) on the development of new nuclear technology, and also among analysts assessing new approaches to international safeguards. Again, articulation of the purpose, scope methodologies, participants, uncertainties, and limitations of such assessments is critical to avoid misperceptions about the results of any assessment. The Generation IV International Forum Proliferation Resistance and Physical Protection (GIF PR&PP) Working Group which is composed of 17 members spanning seven countries provides a good example.
Predefined framework assessments can also have useful educational roles because they provide a framework for exploring how different features of the nuclear fuel cycle contribute to proliferation resistance and which ones may be the most sensitive (which, because of the fuel cycle’s complexity, may not be obvious from a policy perspective or a technical one to those just entering the nonproliferation field from a policy perspective or a technical one).
U.S. Government/International Counterparts
Effective communication about proliferation risk is critical to achieving international consensus on approaches to nonproliferation, including export controls, international safeguards, and sanctions against violators of international norms. If technical analysts have been successful in communicating risk information to U.S. decision makers, the task of communication with international counterparts will be much easier. Communication between U.S. and international technical experts will also help because they are likely to use similar concepts and terms in communicating with their leaders. Nevertheless, challenges will remain, especially in cases in which classified information is involved.
Information related to nuclear weapons is tightly held by the U.S. government. This presents a difficult challenge for the U.S. government in discussing nuclear proliferation risk with the public and international partners. To address this challenge, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has developed an approach to generically categorize material that may be used for proliferation purposes into a Figure of Merit (FOM). The FOM considers the material type and quantity and how readily it can be used to make a nuclear weapon when assigning its value. Sensitive details are masked by the calculation of the FOM value (Hase et al 2012; also see Bathke et al. 2009). This approach has allowed for international discussions to take place at a more detailed level than previously allowed.
The FOM assignment is one of the few solutions available to the address the challenge of properly handling sensitive information while communicating with partners that do not hold security clearances (e.g., government decision makers communicating with international counterparts; and government decision makers communicating with the U.S. and international nuclear industry, the public, and the NGO community). A negative side to this successful communication option is overreliance and misuse. In this case, the FOM for different materials is widely known and reported without considering the required processing steps to convert it into a higher-risk material. An example of this was seen by the committee in DOE-NE’s downselection criteria for the next-generation energy systems (Wigeland 2012)(see Chapter 5).
Depending on the venue (bilateral, multilateral, private, public) and relationship with the other country (ally, partner, or adversary), different strategies may be used. In any case, building trust will be essential, which in turn will require respectful, simple, clear and frequent communication using information available to all parties to the discussion, and which avoids technical jargon. References to classified information that cannot be shared will be useful only in a relationship of trust and may impede communication otherwise (Bathke et al. 2009, BNL 2009, Hase et al. 2012).
U.S. Government/Industry, Public, NGOs
One of the biggest challenges with designing communication options for this larger community is the diversity of technical understanding and political perspectives and methods in which to communicate. The challenges of communicating decisions about nuclear policy to this broader community will be much the same as with international partners and can use the same communication options (structured frameworks from GIF, addressing classification issues using FOM). Another communication challenge as they relate to the impact of U.S-based decisions on nuclear energy systems on international proliferation is that the general public does not have a high-level of trust in information from the DOE (Jenkins-Smith 2012).
One option to consider as a communication tool is related to the recommendation to establish a small set of high-level proliferation-related questions (proliferation resistance—not risk, see Recommendation 4.1) to guide initial R&D decisions on future fuel cycles. If the assessments are updated throughout development, this allows for consistent and periodic communication (e.g. to the public, to Congress) of proliferation concerns. As stated earlier in this report, other nuclear topics use such a set of standard questions for communicating decisions.
Social media were briefly discussed (Jenkins-Smith 2012) as a way to both communicate and gauge public opinion on U.S. government decisions. However, the government’s use of social media for topics related to nuclear proliferation is in its early stages for the reasons cited above (sensitive information related to nuclear weapons, complex problems).21
Recognizing that the broader community may not agree with government decisions will be critical. Mutual respect and clear communication that avoids technical jargon is important, in addition to emphasizing the scope and limitations of assessments contributing to decisions.
FINDING 5.1: The terms “proliferation risk” and “proliferation resistance” frequently are used interchangeably and incorrectly when discussing nuclear energy systems. In addition, technical methods for assessing proliferation resistance are often referred to as methods for assessing proliferation risk. This creates confusion, is misleading, and impedes communication.
The DOE-NE and NNSA may consider leading an effort to develop consensus within the U.S. government and internationally about the consistent use of the terms proliferation risk and proliferation resistance, including how proliferation resistance differs from proliferation risk.
FINDING 5.2: Predefined framework assessments provide a structured approach that can enhance communication and education as long as their purpose, scope, assumptions, and limitations are clearly stated and understood.
Predefined framework methodologies can facilitate communication about proliferation resistance by providing a structure for organizing and discussing complex data. For example:
• Domestic-international community: Predefined frameworks provide a common lexicon and vocabulary during international expert discussion, thereby facilitating communications (e.g., Gen IV International Forum Proliferation Resistance and Physical Protection Working Group).
• Policy makers public—international partners: Predefined frameworks can help establish a common lexicon, provide a useful structure for communicating how a large number of factors contribute to proliferation resistance, and facilitate communication of policy decisions to nongovernmental organizations, the interested public, and international partners.
21 Acting Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, Rose Gottemoeller, supports this communication channel (https://twitter.com/Gottemoeller). See also http://www.npr.org/2012/02/08/146589700/a-new-weapon-against-nukes-social-media.
Predefined framework assessments can also be useful for training academics and next-generation policy makers on proliferation-relevant features of the nuclear fuel cycle, the role of international safeguards, and approaches to increasing proliferation resistance.
However, the purpose, scope, implementation, uncertainties, and assumptions of framework methodologies must be clear, if results are to be interpreted appropriately. It should be clear that assessments of proliferation resistance or risk are not absolute and are one factor among many that contribute to decisions concerning proliferation.
RECOMMENDATION 5.1: To build trust and increase transparency with domestic and international stakeholders, policy makers and decision makers should refrain from technical jargon in communicating proliferation risk, refer to information available to all parties whenever possible, and always include discussion of the assumptions and limitations inherent in any assessment.