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Let's Update Cold War Thinking on Nuclear Security

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 30/03/2016 Roger Howsley

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Ask nearly anyone about how good the civil nuclear industry and its regulators are at publishing information about security governance and you'll get an answer to a different question. Nuclear security information is secret, they'll say, and a matter for the state, so publishing is neither desirable nor possible.
I'd like to challenge that view. It's seriously outdated, a throwback to Cold War mentality and the secrecy associated with nuclear weapons in the rush to achieve mutually assured destruction. It's time we worked on something different. Let's call it mutually assured confidence.
I believe strongly that civil nuclear facility operators and regulatory authorities should provide the public with confidence-building assurances about the effectiveness of their security governance arrangements. Such assurances enable external stakeholders--including other governments and the local and international community--to assess how well those arrangements are functioning.
Regulators and operators need to understand that security of nuclear materials is a strategic risk that should be managed in coordination with other strategic priorities and objectives, and the public needs to know whether safety and security are being managed effectively for the benefit of all.
Participants at the 2014 Nuclear Industry Summit in The Netherlands agreed to enhance public and stakeholder confidence through high standards of transparency, integrity, ethical behaviour and social responsibility. They also identified certain principles that contribute to strengthening nuclear security culture. And the IAEA and OECD believe that each nuclear regulator has a duty to report publicly to "demonstrate that it is efficiently and effectively discharging its responsibilities with integrity, honesty and objectivity." (Emphasis added.)
Through regular and transparent annual reporting, regulators and operators could and should provide information on their effective oversight and management of nuclear security without compromising it. I know from experience that meaningful public assurances can be made about security without putting sensitive information at risk. Why? Because I've done it.
Security experts are holding their own Nuclear Security Summit in Washington at the end of this month, the last in a six-year series. In preparation, my organization surveyed the 53 countries that attended the 2014 summit on the current status of their reporting. The results were not encouraging.
Of the regulators and operators that make their reports available online (about half of them), only a small fraction refer at all to nuclear materials security, let alone provide a comprehensive, unclassified description of their corporate governance or regulatory arrangements. In brief:
•Only a quarter of regulators have a security section in their annual reports;
•Under 10% of operators mention their security policy and under 5% provide information on their governance arrangements; and
•Despite its importance, under 20% of regulators and just a slightly higher percentage of operators refer at all to cyber-security.
By any standard, this is really poor. One of the working groups at the nuclear industry's separate summit has specifically addressed the issue of transparency and governance and recommended ways all nuclear organizations can remain responsible but become more transparent in reporting on security oversight.
Let's hope the message gets through at the coming Nuclear Security Summit and we start to see a move towards mutually assured confidence. Unnecessary secrecy is a major threat to effective security management and regulation and to a robust security culture that is owned and supported by employees. If anyone tells you differently, please challenge their outdated attitude. We need new thinking, and quickly.
The views expressed above are the author's own. This post is part of a blog series produced by The Huffington Post and Carnegie Corporation of New York about issues related to the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit. World leaders will gather in Washington, D.C., on March 31-April 1 to address the threat of nuclear terrorism and steps toward creating a global nuclear-security system to prevent it. To view the posts in this series, visit here. Join the conversation on Twitter at @CarnegieCorp, #NSS2016.

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