Nuclear Monitoring and Verification in the Digital Age: Seven Recommendations for Improving the Process

The goal of this Task Force report is to offer findings and make recommendations regarding nonproliferation monitoring and verification in general; our observations are grounded in large part on the Task Force’s continued attention to nonproliferation developments such as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between the P5+1 and Iran, nuclear developments in North Korea, and other nonproliferation challenges.

The Task Force seeks in this report to examine some of the significant developments in the current digital age as they relate to nonproliferation monitoring activities by both governmental and non-governmental organizations (NGO), to include:

  1. the accelerating quality and quantity of available imagery and other forms of remote sensing available outside governments;
  2. the growing volume and availability of worldwide transactional data related to commerce; and
  3. the ease of communicating findings, observations, and assertions about illicit activities related to nuclear programs and proliferation (with varying degrees of accuracy and truthfulness) through an increasing number of traditional and newer social media outlets.
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The Nonproliferation and Disarmament Challenges of Naval Nuclear Propulsion

A so-called loophole might allow a non-nuclear weapon state (NNWS) to use a naval reactor program to acquire nuclear weapons by taking nuclear material outside of safeguards and then potentially diverting some of that material. Additionally, nuclear-armed states with nuclear-powered warships might use their naval reactor programs to justify keeping a substantial inventory of highly enriched uranium (HEU)3 that could be quickly converted to nuclear weapon use or low enriched uranium (LEU) that could also be converted, but with more steps required to boost the LEU to HEU. Recognizing these and related nonproliferation and disarmament challenges, this report presents a proposal for the 2020 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference: a naval reactor quid pro quo (QPQ) for nuclear- armed states4 and NPT non-nuclear weapon states. Download

Nuclear Dynamics in a Multipolar Strategic Ballistic Missile Defense World

This report examines the nuclear dynamics and implications for strategic relations in a world where four nuclear-armed states are developing strategic ballistic missile defenses (BMD). These states are the United States, Russia, China, and India. Each state appears to have the common rationale of wanting at least limited protection against ballistic missile attacks, and all will respond with various countermeasures to ensure that their nuclear deterrents are viable as they react to missile defense developments in other countries. In addition, we have found that each state has differing motivations for strategic BMD. Download

France’s Choice for Naval Nuclear Propulsion: Why Low-Enriched Uranium Was Chosen

This special report is a result of an FAS task force on French naval nuclear propulsion and explores France’s decision to switch from highly-enriched uranium (HEU) to low-enriched uranium (LEU). By detailing the French Navy’s choice to switch to LEU fuel, author Alain Tournyol du Clos — a lead architect of France’s nuclear propulsion program — explores whether France’s choice is fit for other nations. Read or download now.

Use of Microbial Forensics in the Middle East/North Africa Region


In this report, Christoper Bidwell, JD and Randall Murch, PhD, explore the use of microbial forensics as a tool for creating a common base line for understanding biologically-triggered phenomena, as well as one that can promote mutual cooperation in addressing these phenomena. A particular focus is given to the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region, as it has been forced to deal with multiple instances of both naturally-occurring and man-made biological threats over the last 10 years. Although the institution of a microbial forensics capability in the MENA region (however robust) is still several years away, establishing credibility of the results offered by microbial forensic analysis performed by western states and/or made today in workshops and training have the ability to prepare the policy landscape for the day in which the source of a bio attack, either man-made or from nature, needs to be accurately attributed.

A full PDF version of the report can be found here.

Use of Attribution and Forensic Science in Addressing Biological Weapon Threats: A Multi-Faceted Study


The threat from the manufacture, proliferation, and use of biological weapons (BW) is a high priority concern for the U.S. Government. As reflected in U.S. Government policy statements and budget allocations, deterrence through attribution (“determining who is responsible and culpable”) is the primary policy tool for dealing with these threats. According to those policy statements, one of the foundational elements of an attribution determination is the use of forensic science techniques, namely microbial forensics. In this report, Christopher Bidwell, FAS Senior Fellow for Nonproliferation Law and Policy, and Kishan Bhatt, an FAS summer research intern and undergraduate student studying public policy and global health at Princeton University, look beyond the science aspect of forensics and examine how the legal, policy, law enforcement, medical response, business, and media communities interact in a bioweapon’s attribution environment. The report further examines how scientifically based conclusions require credibility in these communities in order to have relevance in the decision making process about how to handle threats.

A full PDF version of the report can be found here.

Understanding the Dragon Shield: Likelihood and Implications of Chinese Strategic Ballistic Missile Defense


While China has received growing attention for modernizing and expanding its strategic offensive nuclear forces over the last ten years, little attention has been paid to Chinese activities in testing and developing ballistic missile defenses (BMD). Motivated to understand the strategic implications of this testing and to learn Chinese views, Adjunct Senior Fellow and Professor, Bruce MacDonald and FAS President, Dr. Charles Ferguson, over the past twelve months, have studied these issues and have had extensive discussions with more than 50 security experts in China and the United States. Ever since the end of the Cold War, U.S. security policy has largely assumed that only the United States would possess credible strategic ballistic missile defense capabilities with non-nuclear interceptors. This tacit assumption has been valid for the last quarter century but may not remain valid for long. Since 2010, China has been openly testing missile interceptors purportedly for BMD purposes, but also useful for anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons.

A full PDF version of the report can be found here.

Moving Advanced Nuclear Energy Systems to Global Deployment


In the FAS Special Report entitled, Moving Advanced Nuclear Energy Systems to Global Deployment, Charles D. Ferguson, FAS President, identifies the major factors that will affect deployment of advanced reactors (often referred to as Generation IV reactors) in the coming years to decades and analyzes what industry and governments need to do to move forward toward the ultimate goal of widespread deployment of potentially hundreds of highly energy-efficient, much safer, more proliferation-resistant, and economically-competitive nuclear power systems. Moreover, the report looks at lessons learned from the history of development and deployment of Generation II and III reactors and seeks to learn explicitly about the reasons for the predominant use of light water reactors. It then seeks to apply these lessons to current efforts to develop advanced nuclear energy systems. In the process of that assessment, the report reviews the status of the global cooperative and national efforts to develop and eventually deploy advanced nuclear energy systems. The main intentions of the report are to provide a guide to policymakers in the form of findings that lay out potential pathways to forward deployment of one or more advanced nuclear power systems within the next ten to twenty years.

A full PDF version of the report can be found here.

Six Achievable Steps for Implementing an Effective Verification Regime for a Nuclear Agreement with Iran



Now that an agreement has been reached between the P5+1 and Iran, a non-partisan task force convened by FAS has published Six Achievable Steps for Implementing an Effective Verification Regime for a Nuclear Agreement with Iran, a report that addresses anticipated implementation challenges and offers findings and recommendations for strengthening the implementation process both internationally and within the United States.

Over the last 20 months, Iran has been in negotiations with the P5+1 regarding its nuclear program, culminating in an agreement on July 14, 2015 that was memorialized in a 159-page text. The essence of the agreement is that Iran has offered the P5+1 constraints on its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. As part of these negotiations, in paragraph iii of the Preamble and General Conditions, “Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons.”

The negotiation process and the resulting agreement posed a critical question for the United States’ political and scientific communities: What monitoring and verification measures and tools will the United States, its allies, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) require for a comprehensive and effective nuclear agreement with Iran? Although it is resoundingly clear that this issue is a sensitive and controversial one and there is discrepancy on the “wisdom, scope, and content” of a possible agreement with Iran, there does appear to be a general consensus that effective implementation is as important as the agreement itself, and an agreement with Iran without effective verification and monitoring measures “would be counterintuitive and dangerous” and would have negative long-term effects for all associated parties.

To examine and scrutinize these issues, the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) convened the Verification Capabilities Independent Task Force that released a report last September titled Verification Requirements for a Nuclear Agreement with Iran. This new report, Six Achievable Steps for Implementing an Effective Verification Regime for a Nuclear Agreement with Iran, further dissects the issue and discusses potential strategies for successful implementation of the verification regime associated with the recent agreement.

This phase of the Task Force’s study focuses on the anticipation of implementation challenges and offers findings and recommendations for strengthening the implementation process both internationally and within the United States. The report emphasizes six feasible steps for executing a strong verification regime for a nuclear agreement with Iran:

1.       Ensure that the Joint Commission Works Effectively Among the P5+1 and Iran to Facilitate Compliance and Communication

2.       Organize Executive Branch Mechanisms to Create Synergy and Sustain Focus on Implementation Over the Long-Term

3.       Support and Augment the IAEA in the Pursuit of its Key Monitoring Role

4.       Create a Joint Executive-Congressional Working Group (JECWG) to Facilitate Coordination Across the Legislative and Executive Branches of the USG

5.       Prepare a Strategy and Guidebook for Assessing and Addressing Ambiguities and Potential Noncompliance

6.       Exploit New Technologies and Open Source Tools for Monitoring a Nuclear Agreement with Iran

The report was released to the public on Thursday, August 6, 2015 and the Task Force hosted a panel discussion in Washington, D.C. later that day to present their findings and discuss possible implications of the agreement. Over 50 attendees from the political, scientific, and NGO circles gathered to express their thoughts and share their opinions on the issue at hand.

In other relevant news regarding scientists and the agreement with Iran, 29 of the nation’s top scientists — including Nobel laureates, veteran makers of nuclear arms and former White House science advisers — wrote to President Obama on Saturday, August 8 to praise the Iran deal, calling it “innovative and stringent.” While many of those who signed the letter are prominent FAS members and affiliates, such as the lead writer Dr. Richard L. Garwin, who serves on the FAS Board of Directors, Dr. Frank von Hippel, who has served as chairman of the FAS Board, and Dr. Martin Hellman, who is an FAS adjunct senior fellow, FAS, as an organization, has not taken an organizational stance either for or against the deal. As indicated by the report released by FAS on August 6, the Task Force convened by FAS supports providing research, guidance, and recommendations for implementing an effective verification regime for a nuclear agreement with Iran. Scientists with nuclear expertise and scientifically credible analysis must continue to serve as essential components to a strong nonproliferation system that allows nations to use nuclear energy peacefully as long as safeguards commitments are upheld.