Presidents' Statement to Accompany Release of Holdren-Laverov Letter Report

Statement from
Bruce Alberts, President, National Academy of Sciences,
Wm. A. Wulf, President, National Academy of Engineering,
and Harvey Fineberg, President, Institute of Medicine

Feb. 5, 2003

In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the U.S. National Academies and the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) agreed to expand their long-standing cooperation by addressing the urgent need to prevent further proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. As part of this effort, we convened a working group to identify ways the U.S. and Russian Academies could support and enhance our governments' efforts to improve the security of nuclear weapons and nuclear-weapon materials, technology, and expertise in Russia, the United States, and worldwide. The group was co-chaired by RAS vice president Nikolai P. Laverov, director of the Institute of Geology and Geophysics in Russia and a member of President Putin's Science and Technology Advisory Council; and John P. Holdren, chair of the Committee on International Security and Arms Control of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, as well as the director of the Program on Science, Technology, and Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

The attached report of the first phase of the committee's work, which we are making public today, is a letter from Holdren and Laverov to the presidents of the U.S. and Russian Academies. The letter recommends high-priority actions for the U.S. and Russian governments to consider as well as possible joint projects by our academies to further their work in the area of nuclear nonproliferation.

Although a communication to the Academy Presidents from the chairs of a joint working group, the Holdren-Laverov letter is not an official report of the National Academies. We believe, however, that its recommendations are important and deserve the widest possible audience. The letter provides useful guidance for addressing more effectively one of the greatest challenges to global security. Accordingly, we have decided to transmit this letter to relevant U.S. government agencies (as has also happened on the Russian side), and the public.

Bruce Alberts
President, National Academy of Sciences

Wm A. Wulf
President, National Academy of Engineering

Harvey V. Fineberg
President, Institute of Medicine

Letter Report from the Co-Chairs of the Joint Committee on U.S.-Russian Cooperation
on Nuclear Non-Proliferation

4 December 2002

TO: Russian Academy of Sciences President Yuriy Osipov
National Academy of Sciences President Bruce Alberts
National Academy of Engineering President William Wulf
Institute of Medicine President Harvey Fineberg

FROM: Professor John P. Holdren
Academician Nikolai P. Laverov

As the U.S. and Russian Co-Chairs of the Russian Academy of Sciences / U.S. National Academies Joint Committee on U.S.-Russian Cooperation on Nuclear Non-Proliferation, we are pleased to submit, on our own responsibility, this letter report conveying our account of the Joint Committee's deliberations in the first phase of its work. Our letter contains three main parts: an explanation of the background, context, and importance of this joint effort; an initial set of high-priority policy recommendations on how U.S.-Russian co-operation against nuclear proliferation and terrorism threats could be immediately strengthened; and a recommended blueprint for the further work of this committee in its next phase and for other related joint activities among our academies. Annex I lists the members of the Joint Committee and their affiliations. Annex II gives the chronology of the committee's establishment and our meetings to date.

Background, Context, and Importance

Shortly after the events of 11 September 2001, you launched an initiative to expand significantly the cooperation of the U.S. and Russian academies on international security and counter-terrorism. As a part of that initiative, a joint committee of the U.S. and Russian academies was formed under our co-chairmanship with the aim of strengthening, accelerating, and expanding U.S.-Russian cooperation on nuclear non-proliferation. More specifically, the joint committee is tasked with reviewing the existing U.S.-Russian cooperative programs on protecting nuclear weapons, nuclear-weapon components and materials, nuclear-weapon-relevant technologies, and nuclear-weapon expertise and with making recommendations about how the scope, effectiveness, pace, and sustainability of these programs could be improved.

Recognizing the relevant knowledge and competence that the ministries, agencies, and laboratories responsible for these programs have developed, and recognizing also the insights about these programs that have been and are being developed in studies of various parts of these programs by the two governments, by the academies, and by other academic and independent groups, our committee is seeking to integrate and build upon what has already been done and what is already known, not to re-invent or replicate it. To facilitate this, the American and Russian teams for this work have been selected to include members who have been involved in the design and implementation of the past and ongoing U.S.-Russian nonproliferation cooperation and in previous and parallel studies of it inside and outside of government.

The Joint Committee's effort has been organized in two phases: a six-month planning phase (for which this letter serves as the report) and a subsequent effort of multiple-year duration in which this Committee and other existing or new entities linking the U.S. and Russian academies would carry out such additional cooperative activities on nuclear nonproliferation as may be approved by the leadership of the academies in response to the findings of this planning effort and to other inputs. This first-phase effort has been funded by U.S. and Russian academy internal funds as well as, on the U.S. side, by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

For decades the United States and Russia have shared the common goal of preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons, as reflected in the support of both countries for the Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968 and in the high degree of physical security that the two countries historically have sought for their nuclear weapons and for the nuclear-explosive materials in their weapons complexes. The end of the Cold War drastically reduced the danger of nuclear war between the superpowers and was followed by the accession of Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan to the Non-Proliferation Treaty as non-nuclear-weapon states.

On the other hand, the period following the end of the Cold War witnessed an increase in regional nuclear dangers, as reflected by the tests of nuclear weapons and delivery systems for these by India and Pakistan, the revelation of plutonium-based and uranium-based nuclear-weapon-development programs in North Korea, and the unmasking of the clandestine nuclear-weapon program of Iraq. The same time period has seen the emergence of nuclear-weapon ambitions in subnational groups, most notably the terrorist Al Qaida organization. Moreover, trends in both the military and civil nuclear complexes of the major powers have increased the challenges of protecting nuclear weapons, nuclear-explosive materials, and nuclear-weapon-relevant technologies and expertise from coming into the possession of proliferators, terrorists, and criminals who might sell to either national or subnational groups.

The problem of nuclear-weapon proliferation to additional states and the problem of acquisition of nuclear weapons by terrorists are connected in a number of ways. Vulnerabilities to theft of intact nuclear-weapons or the plutonium or highly enriched uranium (HEU) needed to make these weapons represent potential pipelines to both types of proliferators, and the emergence of a global black market in these items would serve both constituencies. Acquisition of nuclear weapons and/or the relevant materials by additional countries multiplies the opportunities for theft by or unauthorized transfer to terrorists, as well as creating additional relevant expertise which itself may "leak". These dangers of proliferation spilling over from proliferant states to subnational groups are all the greater because nations new to the possession of nuclear weapons, materials, and expertise will inevitably be less experienced in managing the relevant commodities and vetting the relevant personnel than more established nuclear-weapon states are. And it cannot be entirely ruled out that a proliferant state would decide deliberately to share clandestinely its nuclear weapons or the know-how to make them with a terrorist or secessionist group with which the state believed its interests were aligned.

These not entirely new but clearly newly growing dangers of national and subnational nuclear proliferation led quite quickly, following the end of the Cold War, to a joint U.S.-Russian determination to increase very substantially the forms and degrees of cooperation between the two countries to try to contain those dangers. The expanded efforts included, most notably: the relevant aspects of the "Nunn-Lugar" Cooperative Threat Reduction Program; the "lab-to-lab" programs of scientific cooperation and cooperation on nuclear material protection, control, and accounting projects carried out by the Department of Energy (DOE) laboratories in the United States and the Ministry of Atomic Energy (Minatom) institutes in Russia; programs of cooperation on the disposition of excess weapon plutonium organized between DOE and Minatom; programs of cooperation to dispose of highly enriched uranium via down-blending and sale on the commercial market; and cooperation to increase employment opportunities in nonmilitary pursuits for scientists and technologists from the oversized nuclear weapons complex in Russia.

The national academies in the United States and Russia have likewise increased, in the post-Cold-War era, their separate and joint efforts to contain nuclear-weapon dangers. These efforts included, in the 1990s: the regular bilateral meetings of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences Committee on International Security and Arms Control (CISAC) with the counterpart committee in the Russian Academy of Sciences; the CISAC studies of the future of the U.S.-Russian strategic relationship (1991), the management and disposition of excess weapon plutonium (1994-95), and the future of U.S. nuclear weapons policy (1997); the report of the U.S.-Russian Independent Scientific Commission on Plutonium Disposition (managed jointly in 1996-97 by the U.S. and Russian academies of science and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy); and the 1995-97 and 1998-99 assessments by the U.S. national academies' Office for Central Europe and Eurasia of the efforts to improve nuclear materials protection, control, & accounting in Russia. Post-2000, academy efforts have included the ongoing CISAC study of monitoring and verification requirements for an arms-control regime embracing all nuclear weapons and materials (report expected spring 2003), the formation prior to September 2001 of a joint U.S.-Russian academies committee on mega-terrorism, and the post 9/11 U.S. academies study of science and technology for countering terrorism.

These governmental and nongovernmental cooperative efforts by scientists and by others have led not only to considerable clarification of the character of the dangers and of the options available for reducing them, but also to a hitherto unprecedented degree of U.S.-Russian intergovernmental cooperation on nuclear-weapons matters and to very substantial concrete accomplishments. Exchanges of information and reciprocal expert visits to nuclear facilities have occurred at a scale unimaginable during the Cold War; hundreds of tons of potential bomb material and thousands of nuclear weapons have been made more secure; enough nuclear-explosive material for thousands of nuclear weapons has been rendered harmless; thousands of under-employed nuclear weapons experts have received support for redirecting their talents to civilian work; and detailed plans for what more needs to be done have been developed and, in many cases, bilaterally agreed.

But what remains to be done, notwithstanding all that has already been accomplished, is daunting. Initial "rapid upgrades" of security for nuclear-explosive material – such as heavily increased physical security at nuclear site perimeters and installation of portal monitors – have been accomplished for only about 40% of the stocks of these materials in Russia. Less than a seventh of Russia's stockpile of HEU has been rendered unusable in weapons; joint efforts to create new jobs for the tens of thousands of Russian nuclear weapons workers who will need them in the next few years have slowed; the HEU at many research reactors in countries around the world remains dangerously insecure; many barriers to the degree of U.S.-Russian cooperation needed to successfully address these challenges remain in place; and little has been done to propagate, to other countries, the insights about protection of nuclear weapons and weapons-relevant materials and technologies that have been developed through the cooperative efforts of the United States and Russia.

There can be no doubt, moreover, about the interest of proliferant states and terrorist groups in trying to exploit the continuing inadequacies in the protection of nuclear weapons, materials, technologies, and expertise in order to acquire nuclear-weapons capabilities; and there can be no doubt about the intolerable consequences that would ensue if even one such weapon were exploded in a U.S. or Russian city. A 10-kiloton nuclear explosion (from a "small" tactical nuclear weapon from an existing arsenal or a well-executed terrorist design) would kill most people within a circle about 2 miles in diameter. Even a 1-kiloton "fizzle" from a badly executed terrorist bomb would have a lethal diameter nearly half as big. In densely populated Manhattan or Moscow, the number of immediate deaths could reach into the hundreds of thousands.

You formed our joint committee to consider what further could be done to focus the resources of the national academies of the two countries on assisting their governments to eliminate the risk of such a catastrophe ever happening. We believe that there are, indeed, many important opportunities for the scientific and technical communities of our two countries to continue to contribute to this crucial effort. The remainder of this letter report on the first phase of our work offers some recommendations for early government action that we hope you, the heads of the U.S. and Russian academies, will transmit to the presidents of the two countries, as well as proposals for further relevant analysis by our committee and by other joint ventures of our academies.

Recommendations for Early Action

R1. Priority attention to overcoming impediments to the needed forms and degrees of U.S.-Russian cooperation on nuclear nonproliferation and counterterrorism, including appointment of a single, high-level official in each government to ensure that there is continuing, focused attention to diminishing the obstacles and exploiting the opportunities in this domain.

We urge you to recommend to Presidents Bush and Putin that they task their governments to implement, on an urgent basis, the recent statement by the G-8 at the end of its summit in Canada. This statement called on the participant countries to reduce the continuing impediments to the implementation of joint nonproliferation and threat reduction programs. The creation and implementation of these programs have required both the U.S. and Russian governments to overcome decades of suspicion and hostility to allow former adversaries access to their most sensitive national security information and facilities. Remarkable progress has been made, but serious impediments remain in both governments, usually in the form of delays that slow or stall progress or reluctance – and sometimes refusal – to provide the legal or policy means necessary for successful implementation of joint activities.

Tighter access, more cumbersome and less predictable visa procedures, and other impediments to cooperation (e.g., problems over liability protection) have sometimes been a consequence of law and sometimes a consequence of executive branch policy or procedure. Often, in recent years, the Russian side has cited either the existence of a law or the lack of a law as a reason for inability to move forward in the cooperation. In the wake of 9/11, moreover, a number of legal restrictions put in place in the United States as part of the campaign against terrorism are impeding joint activities. For example, in recent months, visa requests by Russian participants in joint programs have frequently met unreasonable delays. Because these impediments have become so persistent, they have become a major irritant as well as obstacle in the overall cooperation. Resolving these problems deserves – and will need – constant, assiduous attention at multiple levels of the policy process, in particular the highest level.

The most important step in this direction would be for President Bush and President Putin to appoint, in each country, a senior government official who has the confidence of and access to the country's top political leadership and who has the full-time responsibility for leading and coordinating each government's efforts to prevent nuclear weapons, nuclear-explosive materials, and the technologies and expertise for making these from falling into the hands of terrorists or countries of proliferation concern. These officials would be responsible, in their respective countries, for setting priorities, filling gaps, eliminating overlaps, exploiting opportunities for synergy, and overcoming obstacles in the development and implementation of nuclear counter-terrorism and nonproliferation programs across all of the relevant agencies. They would also be responsible for communicating with each other to coordinate the efforts of the two countries and for updating the two Presidents regularly on progress, difficulties, and needs.

R2. Increased priority and resources for the "security first" agenda of reducing the risks from stocks of HEU and separated plutonium by consolidating them in fewer buildings, sites, and states; by accelerating the blend-down of HEU to enrichment levels unusable in weapons; and by minimizing the use of HEU in research reactors and other facilities.

We urge you to recommend to Presidents Bush and Putin that they order immediate steps to address the compelling short-term security risks arising from excessively large, dispersed, and inadequately protected stocks of the two main classes of nuclear materials that can produce a nuclear explosion – namely highly enriched uranium and separated plutonium. (Both are of extreme concern, but HEU the more so of the two, because it alone can be used in the relatively simple "gun type" bomb designs that would be more easily mastered by inexperienced states or terrorists than would the implosion designs that plutonium requires.)

The consolidation part of the needed effort would simultaneously increase intra-site consolidation and expand inter-site consolidation. This offers a practical, cost-effective, and significant means to increase the ability of the U.S. and Russian governments – and other states – to strengthen and sustain the safeguards they are putting in place over these stocks. Highest priority should be given to consolidating small HEU stockpiles in Russia and those larger stocks of HEU at sites that are deemed less secure. High priority should also be directed at repatriating to Russia (or otherwise removing to a secure location) relatively small but significant stocks of Soviet-origin HEU outside Russia. (The recent recovery of HEU from Yugoslavia is an important example of a long-overdue effort in this area.)

The 1993 HEU agreement – under which the United States is buying 500 tonnes of HEU from dismantled Russian nuclear weapons after it is blended down for eventual use as fuel in nuclear power reactors – has suffered numerous setbacks and is currently designed to ensure that the stocks do not depress the already limited world market for LEU. Proliferation concerns should take priority over economic ones, with the blending down process accelerated beyond the rates needed to implement the U.S. purchase agreement. Market concerns may be satisfied by only blending the material down initially to a level of 20% enrichment (where it is not suitable as reactor fuel but is also not usable in weapons), with later further blending for commercial sale when the market is ready to absorb the material. Technical studies are already in progress to assess how the initial blending-down could best be accomplished.

Proliferation risks from HEU can also be reduced through U.S.-Russian cooperation in conversion of research reactors and critical assemblies to LEU, as well as cooperation to prevent the introduction of new HEU-fueled reactors. The possibility of converting icebreaker reactors to use LEU in place of weapon-grade uranium should also be investigated. Various international and bilateral programs are in place to encourage and support the conversion of research reactors from HEU, but the pace of progress has been desultory and there has been virtually no attention as yet to converting critical assemblies and to preventing the introduction of new HEU-fueled power reactors. Conversion of U.S. university-based research reactors has stalled due to lack of funding, and the Department of Energy has not yet committed to the conversion of its own research and test reactors. Conversion of HEU-fueled research reactors is therefore an existing problem for the United States as well as Russia. This issue needs more attention in both countries, as a matter of urgency.

R3. Cooperation in dismantling Russian general-purpose nuclear submarines.

We urge you to recommend to Presidents Bush and Putin that a high priority be placed on cooperative international efforts to decommission Russian general-purpose nuclear submarines. Practical projects in pursuit of this objective might include de-fueling, transport, and consolidation of fuel in addition to submarine dismantlement. This effort would emerge in the context of the new U.S.-Russian framework for strategic cooperation and would simultaneously serve a number of rationales, including nonproliferation, nuclear safety, and environmental security. With respect to the proliferation issue, some of the submarine fuel is at a high level of enrichment, some of it is at low burn-up, and much of it has been out of reactor operation long enough to lose some of its inherent self-irradiation protection. Thus, some of the spent fuel may represent a significant proliferation hazard and most of it represents a serious radiological terrorism hazard – both to theft and radiological dispersion and to sabotage.

R4. Information and Education about Risks from Nuclear Materials.

We urge you to recommend to President Bush and President Putin that they insist on higher priority for education as a nonproliferation tool and significantly increase funding for training of the current and succeeding generations of nonproliferation workers. Those involved today in guarding and managing nuclear material need training to make them fully understand the importance of the role they are playing in ensuring U.S., Russian, and world security; they are literally at the front line of the global struggle to stem the spread of nuclear weapons, and many of them do not know it. Further, the work of securing all of the world's nuclear-explosive material to high standards, strengthening the global safeguards regime, and implementing the many other measures needed to build adequate barriers against the acquisition of nuclear weapons by either additional states or terrorists will require a large increase in the number of trained nonproliferation specialists. Programs to train them should be established in the United States, Russia, and other countries immediately.

Educational efforts also are required to redress the low knowledge base of the public-at-large regarding nonproliferation issues. It is important for the general public to receive timely, balanced, and reliable information related to the risks and benefits posed by the spread of nuclear technology and the means available to reduce the hazards. As a UN Experts Group on Disarmament and Nonproliferation Education recommends in its report this fall, new information and communications technology should be utilized to provide nonproliferation training via distance learning to a global audience. This territory is largely uncharted, but offers an unusual opportunity for the United States and the Russian Federation to share their considerable technical and pedagogical expertise in pursuit of common nonproliferation objectives.

Proposals for Further Joint Work

In considering the large array of possibilities for focuses of further work of the Russian and U.S. academies in the area you assigned us to review, we have allocated candidate topics into three categories: topics suitable for studies in the next phase of the joint work of our own committee (perhaps with membership augmented for the purpose); related topics that are already being studied – or appropriately could be studied – by other entities of the two countries' academies; and topics that we judged to be of lower suitability or priority than those included in the first two categories.

The criteria used for these determinations were as follows: "fit" within our assigned focus on strengthening U.S.-Russian cooperation in preventing nuclear weapons, nuclear-weapon components and materials, nuclear-weapon-relevant technologies, and nuclear-weapon expertise from falling into the hands of nations of proliferation concern and terrorists; priority under a "security first" ranking that seeks to address first the most immediate and dangerous security risks; technical content indicating suitability for study by the academies; correspondence with the particular expertise of our committee's membership; and absence of adequate efforts on the topic by others – or more appropriate venues for study of the topic by others – inside or outside our academies.

Based on these criteria, we propose two topics for the next-phase activities of our own committee, as follows:

P1. Overcoming Impediments to U.S.-Russian Cooperation on Nuclear Nonproliferation

Our committee proposes to organize private, bilateral meetings to explore how best to reduce the continuing impediments to the implementation of joint nonproliferation and threat reduction programs – as described briefly above in connection with policy recommendation R1 – in support of the commitment made at the May 2002 Moscow summit. The meetings would be designed to facilitate frank discussion of issues such as information sharing, entry requirements and processing, delays in processing contracts and agreements, and site access, and to explore the range of remedies that could potentially be applied to these problems. The committee would use the results of these discussions as the basis for a report containing specific policy recommendations. The report would be subject to review procedures agreed upon by both academies.

P2. Technology for Improving Fissile Material Protection, Control, and Accounting (MPC&A) Worldwide

Our committee proposes to convene a workshop for sharing best practices in MPC&A, including the status and application of remote monitoring technologies, worldwide. The United States and Russia in their individual and cooperative MPC&A programs have invested many hundreds of millions of dollars in protection, control, and accounting for fissile materials to prevent diversion or theft. The acquisition of nuclear weapons by unauthorized individuals or groups is a serious threat which is little diminished so long as weapon-usable materials remain with inadequate MPC&A anywhere in the world. Means of countering this threat might include improved MPC&A, remote monitoring from a central facility within each state, and the extension of IAEA safeguards to civilian stocks of nuclear materials in countries which are Nuclear Weapon States under the NPT. U.S. and Russian participants in the workshop we propose could detail the MPC&A measures in place in a range of types of facilities in their respective countries. Scientists from other countries could address MPC&A challenges and opportunities in their respective regional contexts. And IAEA representatives could detail IAEA capabilities and plans for upgrading these. Discussions could then explore the interaction of the various perspectives, challenges, and opportunities. The papers presented in the workshop and the outcomes of the workshop discussions would form the basis of a summary report, which would be subject to review procedures agreed upon by both academies.

We propose three further topics to be pursued by new joint committees of the two countries' academies to be formed for the purpose, as follows:

P3. Study of joint U.S.-Russian efforts to promote conversion of research reactors from use of HEU to LEU worldwide

Our committee proposes that the U.S. and Russian academies jointly appoint a steering committee to oversee two or three workshops focused on specific aspects of the problem of conversion of research reactors worldwide, as described above under policy recommendation R2. Workshop topics might include technical challenges involved in conversions to LEU, shutdown and decommissioning of HEU-fueled research reactors whose operation is no longer necessary, and providing for international access to the remaining reactors. The steering committee would use the papers commissioned for the workshops, and subsequent committee deliberations, as the basis of a report, which would be subject to review procedures agreed upon by both academies.

P4. Develop a Road Map for Russian General Purpose Submarine Dismantlement and Management of Spent Naval Fuel

Our committee proposes that the U.S. and Russian academies appoint a joint committee to develop a roadmap for dismantling Russian general purpose submarines, focusing on the fuel management aspects of the problem: de-fueling, transport and conversion of fuel, as described above under policy recommendation R3. The dismantling program will require the participation of an array of agencies which have expertise in nuclear proliferation, nuclear energy, and environmental security. The roadmap should take these constituencies into account and be designed so that individual organizations can take part in aspects of the joint effort which are of greatest interest to them. The roadmap would be presented in a report, which would be subject to review procedures agreed upon by both academies.

P5. Review cooperative Russian – U.S. MPC&A programs

Our committee proposes that the U.S. and Russian academies establish a new joint committee to undertake a review of cooperative Russian-U.S. MPC&A programs, developing recommendations to (1) increase the effectiveness and speed of nuclear materials security and safeguards upgrades and (2) improve the long-term effectiveness of the MPC&A systems in both countries. The study would encompass all weapons-usable nuclear materials, both defense and civilian. The new committee, which should overlap somewhat in membership with our committee, would include Russian and American technical experts, government representatives, and experts working in the private sector. Its research and deliberations would form the basis of a report, which would be subject to review procedures agreed upon by both academies.

We propose, finally, that the Joint Co