< Back to Highlights
Most Nuclear Materials Are Outside International Mechanisms

December 17, 2013

In 2011, the total weapons-usable nuclear material inventory was estimated at 1,440 metric tons of HEU and 495 metric tons of separated plutonium (IPFM). Of this, 1,400 metric tons of HEU and 240 metric tons of plutonium were estimated to be outside of civilian programs. The estimated range of uncertainty regarding the total quantity of materials was ±140 metric tons.

In 2011, the total weapons-usable nuclear material inventory was estimated at 1,440 metric tons of HEU and 495 metric tons of separated plutonium (IPFM). Of this, 1,400 metric tons of HEU and 240 metric tons of plutonium were estimated to be outside of civilian programs. The estimated range of uncertainty regarding the total quantity of materials was ±140 metric tons.

About 85 percent of the global stocks of weapons-usable nuclear materials are outside civilian programs.

Those weapons-usable nuclear materials include the vast majority of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and about half the total amount of separated plutonium in the world, which are located in nine nuclear-armed states. Because the materials are categorized as military or non-civilian, they are not subject to International Atomic Energy Agency guidelines or to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) and its 2005 Amendment, which apply only to civilian materials. If the world is to gain confidence in the security of such materials, they must be subject to best-practice exchanges, information sharing, peer review, or other voluntary mechanisms.

A truly comprehensive global nuclear security system would include all weapons-usable nuclear materials, not just the 15 percent in civilian programs.

What Is Military or Other Non-Civilian Material?
Material categorized as military or non-civilian is diverse and can be found in different forms, at different facilities, and for different uses. Most is located in the United States and Russia.

Many believe that military and other non-civilian materials are under military protection, and they assume that such materials are better protected than are those in civilian programs. However, that assumption is not necessarily the case. For example, in the United States, some of that material is in the custody of the U.S. Department of Energy and is protected by civilian security contractors. Even material under military control is not perfectly secured, and measures can be improved.

Certain incidents—such as the serious security breach at the HEU storage facility at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and the removal of the deputy commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, which oversees all U.S. nuclear weapons, because of gambling-related allegations that called into question his reliability—suggest that it is dangerous and inappropriate to take the security of those materials for granted. Insider and outsider threats are real for those material inventories.

The Summit Process
The 2010 and 2012 Nuclear Security Summits reaffirmed the “fundamental responsibility of states … to maintain effective security of all nuclear materials, which includes nuclear materials used in nuclear weapons, and nuclear facilities under their control.” NTI recommends that leaders at the 2014 summit act on this statement and begin to explore mechanisms to provide greater confidence about the security of military or non-civilian materials. There is clearly a need to protect sensitive information about such material. The United States and Russia have developed some limited but important models for assurances that could provide a template for how other nuclear-armed states could provide confidence in the security of their military or other non-civilian materials.

How the NTI Index Accounts for These Materials
The NTI Index includes all weapons-usable nuclear materials and does not distinguish the 85 percent in military or other non-civilian use from the 15 percent of material in civilian use. However, the EIU uses different measures, proxies, or assumptions when assessing the security of military or non-civilian material because of the lack of public information about this category.

Sources:  Global Fissile Material Report 2011: Nuclear Weapon and Fissile Material Stockpiles and Production and Global Fissile Material Report 2013: Increasing Transparency of Nuclear Warhead and Fissile Material Stocks as a Step toward Disarmament.