In the last two years alone, seven major countries have gotten rid of all or almost all of their weapons-grade nuclear materials. But some 2,000 metric tons of enriched uranium and plutonium stocks still remain. And, according to a new study released this week, several "weak links" in the nuclear weapon supply chain could end in worldwide nuclear disaster
Just take a look at the map.
Since 2012, the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonprofit launched by CNN founder Ted Turner and former U.S. senator Sam Nunn, has been issuing updates on global nuclear security—snapshots in time of each nation's nuclear capabilities, intentions, and safety. Considering that more than 100 thefts or "unauthorized activities" dealing with radioactive materials are reported to the International Atomic Energy Agency a year, it's some important geography to consider.
This year, the NTI released an interactive map of its latest nuclear security rankings. While many countries have committed to decreasing their nuclear capabilities, four have actually increased stocks, and some materials still remain relatively open to theft, sabotage, or sale on the black market. Israel, India, North Korea, Pakistan, and Iran ranked in the last places.
Still, much of what's included in the 2014 rankings and report is pretty optimistic. Eight countries have made major improvements as a result of global nuclear security summits in 2010 and 2012, which seems to suggest that the summits actually work. Among the 25 states with weapons-grade nuclear materials, Australia ranked first, by having reduced its stocks and by ratifying an international agreement that commits countries to cooperating in nuclear terrorism investigations. Belgium, Canada, and Japan ranked as the three most improved states overall, and even Pakistan was ranked as most improved among countries with nuclear weapons, though it still has a long way to go.
The United States, if you're wondering, came in 11th place overall. While the U.S. ranked first in the category that looked at actual security and control measures on-site, it actually lost points from 2013 because one facility failed to meet the appropriate safeguards. (The study didn't mention that one time, in 2012, an elderly nun and a group of anti-nuclear activists breached a $150 million security system at one of the country's largest enriched uranium facilities in Oak Ridge, Tenn.) The study also noted that Congress has yet to ratify two major international conventions on nuclear security.
"Global nuclear security is only as strong as the weakest link in the chain—and that makes it imperative that sovereign states exercise their own responsibility in the context of global cooperation," the report's authors write. In March, the Netherlands will host the third international Nuclear Security Summit, where more countries will hopefully undertake commitments toward safeguarding nuclear facilities and destroying stocks.
[Image: Operation Upshot Knothole via Wikipedia]