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During the Opening Panel of the Institute of Nuclear Materials Management’s Annual Meeting on 25 July, WINS’ Executive Director Lars van Dassen gave a speech about “Moving Forward in a New Nuclear Security Paradigm”, outlining six potential building blocks towards progress.
Please find the speech below:
Moving Forward in a New Nuclear Security Paradigm
If I had been asked to serve on the Opening Panel last year on the same topic, I think that my focus would very much have been on the Amended Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and the Review Conference for this that would ensue in March this year. I would also address the issue of gender parity and other issues related to diversity and inclusion that, if we take them seriously, greatly contribute to the efficiency and effectiveness of nuclear security. I would surely have mentioned the challenges arising from climate change. The angle that is most commonly addressed in this context is that, with the development of new nuclear power technologies such as small modular reactors, nuclear security has to meet a new level of attainment. I think that this is an important issue, but I would also have addressed the issue of how climate change leads to new patterns of conflicts in States and between States and how this creates a set of new risks of growing terrorism – including nuclear terrorism.
As said, this would have been my approach if I had spoken last year. This year things have changed a lot. Over the past five months, since the onset of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, nuclear security has changed more than in the previous five decades. The mentioned issues remain very, very important but they have competition from the Russian warfare against Ukraine – and not least how this has played out in the nuclear sphere. Or, maybe it is fair to say that the war in Ukraine has greatly influenced what it is we can and should make of the would-be issues from last year. But that is a separate story that we will have to return to when we can see the contours more clearly.
I associate myself with what was said by Marcia, as gender equality and inclusiveness are ultimately a question of justice. That is also relevant for understanding the ups and downs and perspectives on the Russian war against Ukraine. I understand that this war is the first war over territorial conquest since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. And while there have been earlier occasions of military attacks against nuclear installations and facilities, we now have a whole panoply of events unfolding.
Russia has occupied the Zaporhizyie NPP. Russia has occupied the Chornobyl NPP and the exclusion zone around it but been forced out again. There have been missile strikes and bombing raids against the Kharkiv Institute for Physics and Technology. Several “radon” facilities for the storage of radioactive waste have been attacked. And the other nuclear power plants in Ukraine under Ukrainian control have been overflown by missiles, creating an incredible hazard.
The issues are ongoing and unfolding as we speak and the ramifications for nuclear security and safety are enormous – and we may not have seen the end of the threats yet. I will return to that later.
But first I will mention two global ramifications. First of all, we run the risk of “another Fukushima” in the sense that the Fukushima accidents in 2011 led to a slowing down in the building of new nuclear power plants and also led to the rapid closure of existing ones – at a moment in time when fossil-free sources of energy were becoming really important. There is, of course, a risk that many current plans for new nuclear power will become the subject of question marks over how well nuclear security and safety can be ensured in the light of how things have unfolded as a consequence of the Russian occupation of Ukraine and particularly the occupation of the Zaporhizyie NPP.
But there are other risks as well. I think that the much-lauded “spirit of Vienna”, or the consensus-seeking and pragmatic workings of the IAEA and particularly the Board of Governors, has entered a deep crisis. When a recognised nuclear weapon State and a permanent member of the UN Security Council and one of the leading members of the IAEA’s BoG is behind the aggression unfolding in Ukraine and displaying such levels of insensitivity to all the mechanisms in nuclear safety, safeguards and security, then we have a crisis. We have a crisis as concerns how far the IAEA and UN can come in addressing the pertinent issues and make the necessary decisions, and it is actually hard to see how this situation can be remedied in the near future.
Above, I mentioned two large consequences for the world arising from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But I think that we need to mainly consider the suffering that is happening in Ukraine and at the nuclear facilities under occupation and threat. It is now known that there were people working with crucial security, safety and radiation protection functions at Chornobyl that were forced to be on duty for weeks. And who were worked to death. There were other persons who disappeared and were abducted. And who have still not returned. At the Zaporhizyie NPP the Ukrainian staff is similarly working under extreme conditions of duress and pressure, and several casualties have been the consequence. But we do not know what will be next. There are still escalations available short of a Russian use of nuclear weapons. Various observers point to the risk of Russia bombing Ukrainian nuclear power plants in western Ukraine, as the fall-out would in that case affect Ukraine and neighbouring countries that support Ukraine.
Even if there are still additional threats available in this area, then there are two very important issues that have had very little attention. One concerns the relationship between the attacker and defender of a nuclear facility. One of the lessons from the Russian attacks on Chornobyl and the Zaporhizyie NPP is that the defender is aware of the menace arising from damage to the facility and thus fights with restraint. I think that this is a realisation that is important for nuclear security everywhere and not only for war situations. Nuclear security is, to a very large extent, a question of preparedness and deterrence, but once there is a sharp conflict, then the stakes are suddenly somewhat different. We need to consider this fact a lot more than we have done so far. Secondly, I will say that Russia has put a bomb under peaceful nuclear cooperation. I know from people at the Chornobyl site that the occupiers from Rosatom facilities that Russia sent to Chornobyl were the same institutions and persons who had been the partners under Ukrainian-Russian partnership schemes before the war. Just taste this… The partners with whom you cooperate one day in the pursuit of solving technical and practical problems; they return the next day as occupiers. This aspect is simply appalling and needs to be addressed a lot more.
What I have said above is extremely sobering. So when the title for my speech refers to “moving forward” and “new nuclear security paradigm”, then I do not have a clear-cut answer to what a new paradigm will look like and where it will move. But I can offer some building blocks, and, by mentioning those, I will also say that getting and going somewhere will demand a huge effort by many good forces. Here are my six big issues that we need to accomplish:
• First, we need to keep a close view of which international fora become the victim of the current turbulence. The GICNT (Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism) has suspended its operations in the area of combating smuggling and illicit handling of nuclear and radioactive materials. Other international fora may also be affected and be unable to act as intended. In that case, we need to look at where and how work can be placed with other institutions or whether new institutions may have to be formed.
• Secondly, we need a new series of nuclear security summits. The big achievement for the four Nuclear Security Summits held between 2010 and 2016 was a codex or norm among states that “States stand together in the fight against nuclear terrorism” and “States do not make nuclear security threats and terror attacks against each other”. This norm can no longer be taken for granted and needs to be reinstalled with as many States and governments as possible.
• Thirdly, we need to address things by their right names and understand that international law and civility is an underpinning for everything – also for nuclear security. In short, if we think nuclear security, nuclear safety, radiation protection, safeguards and peaceful nuclear cooperation are important, then it is also obvious that Russia is behind the trespasses and the violence. Support for the sanctity of international law is support for Ukraine. It is as simple as that.
• Fourth, we need to spur the professionalisation of the nuclear security trade. Nuclear security everywhere relies on the knowledge and dedication of the individuals who do guards rounds, watch CCTV cameras, install and upgrade sensor systems, carry out cybersecurity measures etc etc. They are the frontline when things are peaceful, and they are the frontline should a threat materialise. More people who know more and are accomplished professionals will generate ideas and make it possible for us to make progress. In this regard, WINS has some 5,500 members in 145 countries, and we will, in the course of Fall, start activities with our members where we address the new nuclear security challenges in order to find ways forward.
• Fifth, we need to address how inclusive we want to be vis-à-vis Russia. Is it acceptable to participate in meetings where Russian State representatives are present and we give away issues related to nuclear security? These pieces of information could be used against us or against Ukraine and for the continued occupation or attacks on nuclear facilities there. These are incredibly unpleasant issues to consider for organisations, fora and NGOs that wish to be inclusive, but we have to consider these issues and not become victims of our own openness. Simply because that openness can harm us and third parties. We do not want to experience what the Chornobyl staff experienced, that their openness and cooperation was later used against them.
• Sixth, it is probably also relevant to look at how the security of critical infrastructure has been dealt with in other contexts. Maybe there are important lessons from the protection of oil refineries and chemical combines that can be helpful. In short, we need to expand our views.
The six issues mentioned above are only a start. The responses to them bring together prudence, knowledge and a commitment to international cooperation based on international law. That is a good place to start. In fact, it is the only place we can start. Beyond that, much remains unclear but understanding the challenges in nuclear security starts now. I bid you welcome on a journey into a rocky landscape but where there will eventually be a prosperous solution. The INMM is probably the best situated forum for leading this global debate, and WINS is ready to partner with you.