Key Trends

Progress has slowed. In the 2016 NTI Index, no improvements have been made in the core protection and control measures assessed by the NTI Index. In addition, since the last NTI Index, a single state from the theft ranking for countries with one kilogram or more of weapons-usable nuclear materials—Uzbekistan—removed all of its weapons-usable nuclear materials. In 2014, seven states were on that list.

On the upside, of the 24 countries with weapons-usable nuclear materials, four became parties to key international agreements related to nuclear materials security, six made new voluntary commitments (such as contributing to the IAEA Nuclear Security Fund), and eight passed or updated laws and regulations on cybersecurity. Twelve other states have decreased their quantities of materials over the most recent four-year period measured.

Global stocks of weapons-usable nuclear materials decreased overall, but trends point to an increase. Twelve states—including nuclear-armed France, Russia, and the United States—decreased their quantities of weapons-usable nuclear materials over the most recent four-year period measured by the NTI Index, and Uzbekistan removed all of its weapons-usable nuclear material.

Despite that progress, trends—including quantity increases in Japan, India, the Netherlands, North Korea, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom—indicate that global stocks are expected to plateau or even increase in the immediate future .

States without materials are supporting global norms and implementing international commitments. Notable security improvements have been made among the 152 states with less than one kilogram of or no weapons-usable materials—important because those states’ territories could be used as safe havens, staging grounds, or transit points for terrorist operations.

Challenges

The Nuclear Security Summits have had a positive effect, but the strategic goal of developing an effective global nuclear security system remains unachieved. The summits have placed an important spotlight on the urgency of nuclear materials security and have raised it to the head-of-state level. Yet despite recent progress, the current global system for securing nuclear materials still has major gaps that prevent it from being truly comprehensive and effective.

For example, no common set of international standards and best practices exists, there is no mechanism for holding states with lax security accountable, and the legal foundation for securing materials is neither complete nor universally observed. In addition, 83 percent of all stocks are military materials and thus remain outside existing international security mechanisms, such as the IAEA guidelines for the protection of civilian materials.

Finally, participation in international peer review—a tool for improving performance and building confidence in others about the effectiveness of a state’s security—or other measures that would build confidence in the security of materials remain limited. Of the 24 states with weapons-usable nuclear materials, 16 have had a nuclear security peer review in the past five years, and 7 have never had one.

Countries with new or emerging nuclear energy programs struggle to meet the threat. Of the 45 states in the new sabotage ranking, many are developing countries or countries with new nuclear energy programs (or are considering them) and have yet to establish effective nuclear security regimes. For instance, Chile, Egypt, and Indonesia are considering new nuclear energy programs but do not yet have the legal and regulatory structure in place required for effective security. In addition, some states with established nuclear energy programs, such as South Korea and Taiwan, received scores for their security measures that were average for countries with nuclear power.

Nuclear facilities are not prepared for the growing cyber threat. Of the 24 states with weapons-usable nuclear materials and the 23 states that have nuclear facilities but no weapons-usable nuclear materials, 13 received a maximum score for cybersecurity, but 20 states score 0 and do not even have basic requirements to protect nuclear facilities from cyber attacks.