Israel ranks low in nuclear safety survey

Nuclear Threat Initiative ranks country No. 25 out of 32 nations in weapons-usable nuclear materials.

January 15, 2012 22:43
3 minute read.
Dimona nuclear reactor

311_dimona reactor. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

WASHINGTON – The Nuclear Threat Initiative has given Israel a low grade in the field of security of weapons-usable nuclear materials. Israel was ranked 25 out of the 32 countries with weapons-usable nuclear materials, with an overall score of 56 points out of 100 in a rating that classifies countries according to their ability to secure nuclear materials for military use that are stored in on-site facilities. Only Uzbekistan, China, India, Vietnam, Iran, Pakistan and North Korea (last place) were ranked lower than Israel. The US is ranked No. 13 and Australia was at the top of the list.

The Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonprofit research institute in Washington, DC, initiated the project in cooperation with The Economist’s Economic Intelligence Unit. The goal of the organization is to strengthen global security by reducing the risks involved with nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. The organization was founded in 2001 by its co-chairmen, former US senator Sam Nunn and CNN founder Ted Turner, and is financed through donations from Warren Buffett, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the McArthur Foundation and the Google Foundation.

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Countries with one kilogram or more of weapons-usable nuclear materials were sorted according to five main categories, with each category including a number of subcategories; each category and subcategory received a ranking, and the final ranking was the result of an adjusted calculation.

The five main categories, with Israel’s ranking in parentheses (0 being the lowest and 100 the highest) are: quantities and sites (35) – the larger the quantities and the greater the number of facilities, the greater the chances are of them being harmed; security and control measures (78); global norms (40); domestic commitments and capacity (63); societal factors (45).

Israel received a high ranking (100) in the following subcategories: physical security during transport; security personnel measures; independent regulatory agency. However, Israel received below-average scores in the following subcategories: control and accounting procedures (0); nuclear security and materials transparency (0); sites and transportation (17).

Israel received mediocre scores in the following subcategories: pervasiveness of corruption (50); political stability (35); group(s) interested in illicitly acquiring materials (50); safeguards adoption and compliance (50).

Scores in categories such as corruption or political stability could have a direct impact on the security of nuclear materials, Nuclear Threat Initiative vice president for nuclear-materials security Dr. Page Stoutland told Globes. For example, a corrupt clerk could reveal information about the location of these materials.

Stoutland said the survey editors only used openly available sources of information, and they did not have access to secret intelligence information. As a result, a few countries, such as Israel and North Korea, which did not disclose any information on military nuclear programs, posed a special challenge to the editors.

In many instances, the researchers were forced to use mediation channels. In other words, they used information about similar subjects for which there is much more transparency and gave a score for nuclear security issues based on this information. For example, information available for risk procedures and the training of IDF soldiers led researchers to grant Israel a high score in the security-personnel measures category.

According to Stoutland, the lack of transparency and information on safety regulations of nuclear materials damaged Israel’s ranking in the survey. Although Israel received top scores in the physical security during transport category, the lack of information on regulations and safety procedures erodes the confidence of the international community in Israel’s ability to protect nuclear hardware.

This is the first time a public report ranking countries according to the quality of security at their nuclear facilities has been published. The Nuclear Threat Initiative said its goal in publishing the survey was to encourage public discussion about the security of nuclear materials and to urge governments to strengthen their protection over nuclear materials at their disposal.

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