A National Academies panel said Monday that monitoring, detection and verification of nuclear weapons and fissile material should be a higher national security priority and more coordination on the issue is needed across federal offices.
That is the crux of an interim report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.
The report, “Nuclear Proliferation and Arms Control Monitoring, Detection and Verification: A National Security Priority,” urges increased research and development to “minimize surprise,” said Corey Hinderstein, vice president of the Nuclear Threat Initiative’s international fuel cycle strategies.
Hinderstein, who served as vice chair of the National Academies of Sciences (NAS) panel that drafted the interim report, led an online briefing on the document Monday. The panel was chaired by Jill Hruby, a former director of the Sandia National Laboratories recently nominated by President Joe Biden to lead the National Nuclear Security Administration.
Hruby is “now in a silent period” following her nomination, said study co-director Marie Kirkegaard during the webinar.
The report, mandated by the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2020, said emerging and future challenges will require new tools to collect and leverage data.
The demands are expanding, according to the report. With increased international nuclear energy development there is more demand for enrichment and reprocessing technologies. “Cross-border illicit networks call for more global detection approaches.” On the arms control front, nuclear weapon states are updating their weapons and delivery systems. Also, weapons development “may no longer require nuclear testing,” the NAS said.
There are probably a dozen U.S. government entities involved in the monitoring, detection and verification (MDV) enterprise, Hinderstein said. The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is key because it is involved in multiple fronts – from policy to research and development to operations, she added. In addition to NNSA, other organizations involved include various Department of Defense offices, the National Security Council, Department of State, Homeland Security, the U.S. intelligence community and, more broadly the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The report stops short of calling for the merging of any offices, Hinderstein said. But it does say the National Security Council should “ensure that there is an enduring interagency coordination process.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this phase of the report was conducted without the benefit of site visits. Those will hopefully start this summer, Hinderstein said. The final report is expected out in 2022.