News and Events
Recap: Troubling Findings from the 2023 Nuclear Security Index with Scott Roecker
By: Anabelle Ballard, Sophomore and Jackson Craig Scott, Graduate Teaching Assistant, Baker School
Scott Roecker, Vice President for the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) Nuclear Materials Security Program, recently gave a presentation at the Baker School, hosted by the Center for National Security and Foreign Affairs. As a member of NTI, Roecker focused on work to reduce the risks associated with nuclear and radiological materials. The lecture centered on insights derived from the latest NTI Nuclear Security Index.
The index, which provides holistic oversight into nuclear security standings globally every two years, is a source that ranks countries and determines how well they were doing to secure nuclear materials. In its sixth edition, the NTI index’s results reveal a worrying trend: the report’s overarching theme found that nuclear security conditions worldwide were experiencing a concerning regression. Roecker cited multiple factors that could be attributed to the decline, including the increase in weaponized nuclear materials in countries, less engagement with the International Atomic Agency, and a worsening of risk environment conditions. Recognizing these negative factors, Roecker focused on the main categories of the index: managing of secure materials, support of global efforts, and facility protection initiatives. This marks the first time in history that a decrease in the score has been seen by the NTI. Roecker had three findings that he presented in his lecture:
- The impact of climate change on nuclear security
- Heightened risk of nuclear environments
- A global increase of fulfilling previous nuclear security commitments
Due to climate change, the NTI has seen growing interest in nuclear energy globally. As a result, Roecker predicted that nuclear energy will be at the forefront of future energy development, with nuclear energy likely to double or even triple by 2050. With this increasing demand it is imperative that normative standards are set for countries new to nuclear energy, emphasizing regulatory development, workforce development, and nonproliferation efforts.
Regarding the heightened risk of nuclear environments, the index found these globally, with higher chances of developments in Russia and the Middle East. According to Roecker, the risk environment correlates closely with overall nuclear security conditions. These levels are calculated by political stability, effective governance, and corruption rates. In a sobering statistic, the index found that 26 of the 46 countries in possession of nuclear facilities and Taiwan have seen their risk scores decrease since 2020.
Nevertheless, the NTI report did uncover some positive findings amid the otherwise bleak scenario. Roecker noted that twice as many countries are now fulfilling their existing obligation to effectively protect nuclear materials and nuclear facilities. The biggest improvements in nuclear security are in the Global South, with African countries leading the way. Along with this, countries without weaponized nuclear materials improved their overall scores.
After recognizing the current setbacks in nuclear security, Roecker proposed multiple ways to improve including:
- Giving more support to the International Atomic Energy Agency, with more consistent backing from countries with nuclear facilities
- International inspections to ensure countries are meeting nuclear standards
- Developing proper practices for the disposal of spent nuclear fuel
- Reinforcing information sharing and communication among countries
- Addressing security threats and enhancing security culture
Roecker concluded optimistically by turning his sights to a brighter future. The NTI hopes the index can be used as a turning point for the progress of nuclear security. Roecker looks to the upcoming International Conference on Nuclear Security set to take place in May as an opportunity for renewed commitments and strengthened nuclear security.