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– Frank von Hippel
Co-Director of Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University
June 1, 2018
GAO Finds Gaps in U.S. Nuclear Tracking

Kelsey Davenport

U.S. agencies are not able to verify the location and physical security of U.S.-obligated nuclear materials overseas, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a report released last month. The document, a summary of the classified report issued to the House Foreign Affairs Committee in June, recommended that Congress consider requiring the Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to “complete a full accounting of U.S. weapons-usable nuclear materials [in other countries].”

The Energy Department, NRC, and Department of State disagreed with the GAO recommendations. In responses included in the report, all three agencies said that comprehensive tracking of U.S. nuclear material overseas is unwarranted and impractical. According to the statement from the Energy Department, “[International Atomic Energy Agency] inspection, surveillance, and reporting processes serve as an effective, internationally sanctioned and U.S.-supported tracking and accounting mechanism.”

The report also said Congress should consider amending the Atomic Energy Act to require greater access rights under future nuclear cooperation agreements for U.S. agencies to verify physical protection of U.S.-obligated nuclear materials.

The NRC responded by stating that the report “does not give sufficient weight to foreign sovereign responsibilities for ensuring physical protection” and that the review process conducted prior to negotiating nuclear cooperation agreements adequately assesses physical protection and safeguards.