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NNSS Course
Brookhaven National Laboratory
Bldg. 197C
PO Box 5000
Upton, NY 11973


Nuclear Nonproliferation, Safeguards and Security in the 21st Century
Course Description

Since the end of the Cold War, United States nuclear security policy and planning have had to adapt to a rapidly changing environment. The “traditional” risk of nuclear proliferation – additional nation-states acquiring nuclear weapons or unsafeguarded nuclear material – remains. But it has been compounded by the threat that “loose nukes” or improvised nuclear devices could find their way to American cities, brought in by sub-national terrorist groups. Such groups also could use radioactive materials, widely used for important health and industrial purposes, to detonate a radiological dispersal device (RDD).

In the past, nonproliferation has often been viewed from the perspective of haves and have-nots, nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states, states with advanced nuclear fuel cycles and those without, developed and developing countries. Today the boundaries are blurred. A. Q. Khan demonstrated that suppliers in low or middle-income countries can become suppliers of sophisticated nuclear products. No longer is such capacity confined to states with advanced nuclear fuel cycles. Indeed, no fuel cycle at all is necessary for a state to become part of the nuclear proliferation problem. In fact, recent years have seen the emergence of serious proliferation problems in Iran, North Korea, and Syria. And states are no longer the only threat, as terrorists have convincingly demonstrated.

The emergence of new proliferating states and a more pronounced terrorist threat have led to important adaptations in the last dozen years to the tools used to combat nuclear proliferation – treaties, institutions, multilateral arrangements, and technology controls. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) adopted a new model safeguards agreement (the Model Additional Protocol) to improve its ability to detect undeclared activities. The IAEA has shifted its focus from facilities to states and its new state-level approach incorporates information from many sources, including export data and satellite imagery. IAEA safeguards remain a key element of the nuclear nonproliferation regime, helping to monitor compliance with states’ Nonproliferation Treaty obligations, providing confidence in the peaceful use of civil program, and providing early warning of misuse by detecting efforts to divert nuclear material or operate clandestine programs. In order to continue to strengthen the IAEA safeguards system, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has launched a Next Generation Safeguards Initiative intended to provide enhanced support for the IAEA safeguards system and give the IAEA the resources it needs to do its safeguards job effectively.

Other tools and mechanisms have also been put in place to help reduce the risk of nuclear proliferation. For example, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1540 to prompt states to put in place controls on items related to weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in order to reduce the risk of terrorists acquiring these powerful weapons. For example, this includes controls on nuclear material, which will help to strengthen the safeguards system. Recent U.S. administrations have also initiated a number of new bilateral and multilateral programs such as Cooperative Threat Reduction (Nunn-Lugar), the Global Threat Reduction Initiative, and the Container Security Initiative.

Nonetheless, many believe that the nuclear nonproliferation regime needs to be strengthened further – through revitalization if not redesign – and that it needs to be integrated with strengthened efforts to reduce the terrorist threat. At the same time, the United States is facing the erosion of its own intellectual infrastructure of specialists equipped to address the challenge of nuclear proliferation.

This course is designed to give graduate students a sound understanding of the foundations of the nuclear nonproliferation regime and U.S. programs and policies developed to meet the emerging nuclear proliferation threats to our security. The course will present students with critical assessments of the current nonproliferation arrangements. With exercises and demonstrations the course will introduce students to the technologies of international nuclear safeguards and detection of nuclear and other radioactive materials. Above all, the course aims to give participants the knowledge, analytic tools and motivation to contribute to improvement of the nonproliferation regime.

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Last Modified: December 2, 2010
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