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Lock Down. A policeman stands guard near a container of highly enriched uranium being shipped by train after removal from a research reactor near Warsaw, Poland. Since a summit in 2010, world leaders have put renewed emphasis on securing weapons-usable nuclear material to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.
Lock Down. A policeman stands guard near a container of highly enriched uranium being shipped by train after removal from a research reactor near Warsaw, Poland. Since a summit in 2010, world leaders have put renewed emphasis on securing weapons-usable nuclear material to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.
(NNSA photo)
Nuclear Security
Securing the Material, Eliminating the Threat
Why it must remain a top priority for world leaders

From our point of view, preventing a nuclear terrorist attack from taking place anywhere is an achievable and common sense goal.

Nuclear terrorism. The words make one shudder when thinking of the implications of such an act. The world’s leaders say nuclear terrorism is the greatest threat we face—with good reason.

There are clear indications that Al Qaeda has been actively seeking nuclear weapons for years. There’s ample evidence, including a statement from the man himself, that Osama bin Laden sought and was prepared to use a nuclear weapon. We also know that Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan and his network sold nuclear secrets worldwide. There are regular media reports about smuggling incidents that seem to indicate a black market for weapons-usable nuclear material.

The explosion of one crude nuclear bomb in any major city would change the world forever. Not only could it cause death on a mass scale, but it could also trigger global economic disruption, environmental degradation, and a wider conflict requiring a military response. According to nuclear security expert Matthew Bunn at Harvard University, “a 10-kiloton bomb (equivalent explosive power to 10,000 tons of TNT and modestly smaller than the Hiroshima bomb) detonated in midtown Manhattan in the middle of a workday could kill half a million people and cause $1 trillion in direct economic damage.”

Admittedly, experts don’t agree on how high the odds are that a nuclear terrorists bomb will be detonated in the next ten years. Some say it’s as low as 1 percent and others say it’s as high as 50 percent. But even if there’s little chance of it, working to eliminate the threat is an investment well made by world leaders.

The easiest way to prevent a nuclear attack by terrorists is to make sure they don’t acquire weapons-usable nuclear material. Securing these materials is crucial because once terrorists have acquired enough, then it becomes significantly more difficult to stop them from using the material in a bomb. In this issue of Courier, you’ll find an overview explaining the nuclear material of concern, where it is in the world, and how feasible it is that terrorists could build a bomb with the material.

Shortly after his election, President Obama made preventing nuclear terrorism a top policy priority. In a public speech in Prague in April 2009, he declared that the United States would lead a global effort to secure all materials in four years. A year later in April 2010 Obama hosted 47 world leaders at the first ever Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, DC.

All nations attending the Nuclear Security Summit last year agreed to take measures to keep terrorists from acquiring nuclear material and most made specific pledges to take action. In an article by Michelle Cann, research analyst at the Partnership for Global Security, you’ll find an analysis of the progress made toward these commitments. Next year world leaders will come together once again for a second Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea.

The United States cannot solve this problem alone. Nor can governments. Only truly global cooperation across all sectors can prevent nuclear terrorism. Also in this issue, the foundation’s director of policy and outreach Keith Porter takes a look at a “whole of society” approach to addressing the problem.

There has been a serious effort to scoop up and lock down the world’s nuclear materials since the end of the Cold War. Yet nearly 20 years later, we are far from having all of the materials secure. And we are at risk of them falling into the wrong hands.

Almost three years ago the Stanley Foundation began a programming effort focused on the security of weapons-usable nuclear materials. From our point of view, preventing a nuclear terrorist attack from taking place anywhere is an achievable and common sense goal the world’s governments can agree on. The stories in this edition demonstrate how securing the material eliminates the threat.


— Jennifer Smyser, Program Officer, The Stanley Foundation
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Pulitzer Prize finalist Laila Lalami, author of “The Moor’s Account,” will be the featured speaker at the 2017 International Women Authors event on November 9 in Rock Island, Illinois.

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As summer winds down, take a look at the new issue of Courier from the Stanley Foundation. The Summer 2017 issue delves into topics including the transition away from coal in Germany, the increased role of cities in global governance, and the crisis in Venezuela. Also in this issue, read about the increased capabilities of 3D printing, and oversight over emerging technologies. Summer 2017 PDF (1,151K) Subscribe for FREE.

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The Stanley Foundation holds two annual conferences, UN Issues and the Strategy for Peace Conference. These bring together experts from the public and private sectors to meet in a distraction-free setting and candidly exchange ideas on pressing foreign policy challenges.

Divided into roundtable talks, the cutting-edge discussions are intended to inspire group consensus and shared recommendations to push forward the debate on the foundation’s key policy areas.


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The Ground Truth Project, New America, and the Stanley Foundation are hosting a Screening of “A Climate for Conflict” and discussion with the creators followed by a panel discussion on Climate Security and Societal Resilience on May 30, 2017.

Somalia today is at a crossroads between a deepening crisis and a path to stability. Photographer and filmmaker Nichole Sobecki and writer Laura Heaton spent 18 months documenting personal stories of Somalia, creating a film, photography, and reporting that vividly illustrate the human consequences and security risks of a changing climate. Read more.

Follow the conversation online with #AClimateforConflict.


Stanley Foundation at 60
On December 12, 1956, the Stanley Foundation was certified as a nonprofit corporation in the state of Iowa, bringing to life an organization dedicated to creating a world in which there is a secure peace with freedom and justice. Sixty years later, the organization continues to pursue and advance that vision as a thriving nonpartisan operating foundation. Moreover, it remains an organization with a professional staff and the involvement of family members who have an ongoing role in shaping its strategy and core values. More.

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