Program Tracks Nuclear Materials Worldwide

05.08.08 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

An interagency program established in 2006 by a classified Presidential directive is working to gather information on the status and security of nuclear materials around the world and to characterize them for forensic purposes. Remarkably, such a thing had never been done before in a rigorous way.

“On August 28, 2006, the national-level Nuclear Materials Information Program (NMIP) was established via National and Homeland Security Presidential Directive (NSPD-48/HSPD-17),” said Rolf Mowatt-Larssen (pdf), director of the Department of Energy Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence at an April 2, 2008 hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

“While the specifics of NMIP are classified, the goal of NMIP is to consolidate information from all sources pertaining to worldwide nuclear materials holdings and their security status into an integrated and continuously updated information management system,” he said.

“We have prioritized this program to focus on countries and facilities that we regard in the intelligence community to be of the highest risk,” said Mr. Mowatt-Larssen at another hearing last October 10. “So we have in fact identified the high-risk sites. We have identified what type of material is there. We have an assessment, an ongoing assessment, it’s being updated every day, on the status at the highest priority level. It’s a work in progress. It’s going to take a number of years to complete.”

“I’m very enthusiastic about what they’re doing,” said Matt Bunn, a nonproliferation expert at Harvard who has long advocated this kind of database development. “My hat’s off to them,” he said, adding that the Bush Administration deserved credit for surpassing previous efforts in this direction.

The subject matter of the classified Presidential directives NSPD-48 and HSPD-17 had not been publicly identified before Mr. Mowatt-Larssen’s testimony last month. Thanks to Jeffrey Richelson of the National Security Archive who noticed the disclosure. A list of known Bush Administration National Security Presidential Directives is available here.