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New report on high dangers of nuclear theft and sabotage

Nuclear theft and sabotage threats remain high, report warns
Social unrest contributes to the US’s lack of improvement in the biennial ranking of how well countries protect against theft of weapons-usable materials. Physics Today, 
David Kramer, 14 Sept 18, Nations must drastically improve cybersecurity protection to guard against thefts of nuclear materials or acts of nuclear sabotage, according to an exhaustive global analysis released 5 September by the nonprofit Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI). One-third of the 44 countries and Taiwan that possess weapons-usable nuclear materials or have reactors, reprocessing plants, and other nuclear facilities lack even the most basic cyberprotections, the NTI reports in its Nuclear Security Index. And although the US received a high grade for its cyberdefenses, it still needs to improve its overall level of protection.

The pace of cyberattacks on nuclear facilities has accelerated in recent years, according to the report. The authors cite multiple incidents that were publicly reported in 2016, including viruses discovered in computer systems at the Gundremmingen Nuclear Power Plant in Germany and the theft of tritium research from the University of Toyama’s Hydrogen Isotope Research Center in Japan. In addition, a former US Department of Energy and Nuclear Regulatory Commission employee pleaded guilty to charges stemming from an attempt via spear-phishing emails to fraudulently gain confidential information from dozens of DOE employee accounts.

Taiwan and 12 countries, including the US, received the highest grade from the NTI for their defenses against cyberthreats. But many other countries have not upgraded their cyberdefenses since 2016, the last time the NTI conducted its review. The report notes that nations with the largest number of sites are more likely to have cyber-nuclear regulations in place.  The NTI recommends that those nations share their expertise and information on threats and vulnerabilities with less advanced countries. It also calls for countries to impose cybersecurity requirements at their nuclear facilities and to increase the number and quality of cyber-nuclear experts at sites.

Among the 22 nations that possess at least 1 kilogram of separated plutonium or highly enriched uranium, the US and Russia came in 12th and 17th, respectively, for their overall level of protections from thefts. The two nations hold the vast majority of weapons-usable materials. Factors considered in the report card besides cyberdefenses include quantities of materials and the number of sites where they are located, security and control measures, and adherence to international norms and agreements.

The US is down one place on the list from 2016 due to “heightened social unrest, resignations and vacancies from key government departments, and the increasingly deep polarization of political party politics.” Changes in regulatory policies require effective governance and bipartisan support, explains Hilary Steiner, a report coauthor from the consulting firm Economist Intelligence Unit. She cites large-scale demonstrations over the past two years, including the violent 2017 rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, as examples of social unrest that could adversely affect US nuclear regulatory policy……..

Besides the US and Russia, the declared nuclear weapons states ranked 11th (France), 12th (the UK, tied with the US), and 14th (China). Undeclared weapons states Israel, India, and Pakistan were near the bottom of the list, at 18th, 19th, and 20th, respectively. The states judged to be most vulnerable to nuclear theft were Iran and North Korea.

Of the 44 nations and Taiwan with nuclear facilities, Finland topped the rankings in protections from sabotage, followed by Australia, Canada, Japan, and the UK. The US tied for 11th place. https://physicstoday.scitation.org/do/10.1063/PT.6.2.20180914a/full/

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September 14, 2018 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, safety

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