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Research

Preventing Nuclear Terrorism


CSSS staff members undertake a wide range of research into the threat of nuclear and radiological terrorism and the actions that can be taken to mitigate these risks. This is an intrinsically interdisciplinary and applied area of research and as such our work brings together experts with backgrounds in mathematics, physics, social science and security studies and practitioners from international organisations, national governments and industry. Listed below is a short summary of current and past projects, research areas and publications.

Understanding Nuclear Risks

Over the years there have been many efforts by policy makers and academics to quantify the risk posed by nuclear terrorism. However, this is a far from simple task, as demonstrated by the outputs of different assessments which differ by up to nine orders of magnitude. Drawing on probability theory Bayesian and Frequentist approaches are used to show that nuclear terrorism should be considered as a ‘virtual risk’ and one that defies simple quantification. These issues are explored briefly in a paper prepared by Dr Robert Downes and Dr Christopher Hobbs for the IAEA 2016 Nuclear Security Conference in detail in a forthcoming article accepted for publication in the European Journal of International Security. This paper forms the basis for a future programme of research centred on decision making under uncertainty in the context of nuclear terrorism and nuclear risks generally, including those arising from civilian uses of nuclear and radiological material.

For further information contact: Dr Robert Downes or Dr Christopher Hobbs

International Nuclear Security Regime 

President Obama’s inaugural foreign policy speech in Prague in 2009 elevated efforts to prevent nuclear terrorism to the forefront of the international security agenda. Stimulating intense discussion into both the effectiveness of formal and informal nuclear security initiatives and how international actions and standards might be further strengthened. Professor Wyn Bowen, Dr Alan Heyes and Hugh Chalmers evaluate the impact of the G8 Global Partnership against WMD, a multinational $20 billion CBRN threat reduction programme, in a RUSI Whitehall Paper. In an article published in International Affairs by Professor Wyn Bowen, Dr Matthew Cottee and Dr Christopher Hobbs, debunk arguments for a legally binding enforceable international nuclear security regime, advocating instead for pragmatic and incremental approaches to strengthening regime cohesion. In a narrowly focused article published in Strategic Analysis Professor Wyn Bowen and Dr Christopher Hobbs assess the challenges and options in strengthening nuclear information security, an area identified as a key policy gap at the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in Seoul. This article builds on a Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) supported scoping study on the intangibles of nuclear security, carried out by CSSS in 2011, which also fed into the Multinational Statement on Nuclear Information Security presented by the UK at the Seoul Summit. CSSS staff have also investigated the role and purpose of the newly created Nuclear Security ‘Centres of Excellence’, with findings published as two Stanley Foundation Policy Analysis Briefs which discuss the key components of a ‘model centre’ and options to enhance collaboration between the nascent Centres in North East Asia. Ahead of the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit CSSS were funded by the FCO to produce a Nuclear Security Briefing Book, which outlines in detail how and why the international nuclear security regime has evolved from the 1970s to the present day. This was updated for the 2016 NSS with the intention of serving as a reference guide for participants in the summit process.

For further information contact: Professor Wyn Bowen, Dr Christopher Hobbs, Dr Matthew Moran, Luca Lentini

Nuclear Security in the Maritime Environment

Over the past two decades, billions of dollars have been spent on installing radiation detection equipment at ports and other maritime facilities around the world in an effort to detect illicitly trafficked nuclear and radiological materials. In a scoping study funded by UK Government and presented at Wilton Park in 2015 Dr Robert Downes, Dr Christopher Hobbs and Dr Daniel Salisbury assessed the intrinsic challenges for detecting and responding to the discovery of these materials in this environment and the effectiveness of the national systems currently in place. This report found that the implementation of detection systems and response mechanisms is highly fragmented and further research is currently being performed into the underlying reasons behind this divergence. CSSS staff also worked closely with the UK’s Department of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (DBEIS) to provide input for the Best Practice Guide on Maritime Supply Chain Security presented at the 2016 NSS. CSSS have recently agreed a Coordinated Research Project with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on alarm assessment for radiation detection systems at maritime facilities. Working in partnership with the Department of Informatics at KCL we will be analysing spectral data from tens of ports worldwide with the ultimate goal of designing an algorithm for use by front-line officers in support of their detection activities.

For further information contact: Dr Robert Downes or Dr Christopher Hobbs

Radiological Source Security

CSSS staff members have also explored the issue of radiological terrorism. Professor Wyn Bowen and Jasper Pandza examine the role that deterrence by denial could play in preventing radiological terrorism as part of an edited book on Deterring Terrorism: Theory and Practice. In an article for IHS Janes Dr Robert Downes and Geoffrey Chapman discuss the radiological threat posed by the Islamic State. CSSS have also previously been funded by the Carnegie Cooperation of New York to explore an estimation methodology for state inventories of radioisotope holdings with a focus on sources that could be used in a ‘dirty bomb’.

For further information contact: Professor Wyn Bowen, Dr Robert Downes or Dr Christopher Hobbs

Nuclear Security Culture

As part of our DBEIS funded programme CSSS staff are working with the nuclear industry to investigate how the collective behaviour of individuals can influence the success and failure of nuclear security systems and how security culture can be both assessed and enhanced at the organisational level. As part of this we will be exploring how national cultures can impact on the implementation of nuclear security measures.

For further information contact: Dr Christopher Hobbs

Nuclear Security Education

A founding member of the International Nuclear Security Education Network (INSEN) in 2010, CSSS staff members have been exploring the use of different pedagogical tools in teaching nuclear security through a succession of Professional Development Courses. In article published in the International Journal of Nuclear Security Dr Christopher Hobbs, Luca Lentini and Matthew Moran discuss the challenges and benefits of employing table-top exercises in this emergent area of education.

For further information contact: Dr Christopher Hobbs, Dr Matthew Moran and Luca Lentini

Relevant Publications

Academic Articles

Christopher Hobbs, Luca Lentini and Matthew Moran, ‘The Utility of Table-Top Exercises in Teaching Nuclear Security’, International Journal of Nuclear Security, Vol. 2, No. 1, pp. 1-12 (November 2016)

Wyn Bowen and Christopher Hobbs, 'Sensitive Nuclear Information:Challenges and Options for Control'Strategic Analysis (2014), Vol.38, No.2

Wyn Bowen, Matthew Cottee and Christopher Hobbs, 'Multilateral cooperation and the prevention of nuclear terrorism: pragmatism over idealism'International Affairs (2012) Vol.88, No.2

Wyn Q. Bowen, and Jasper Pandza. "Preventing Radiological Terrorism: Is There a Role for Deterrence?" In Deterring Terrorism: Theory and Practice, edited by Andreas Wenger and Alex Wilner: (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2012), pp. 180-201

Jasper Pandza, 'Managing the Consequences of Nuclear Terrorism'Survival (2011), Vol. 53, No. 5.

Alan Heyes, Wyn Bowen and Hugh Chalmers, ‘The Global Partnership against WMD: Success and Shortcomings of G8 Threat Reduction since 9/11’, RUSI Whitehall Paper, (London, 2011)

Wyn Bowen, Ben Rhode and Shen Dingli, ‘How China Can StrengthenInternational Nuclear Security’, Survival (2010), Vol.52, No.3

Wyn Q. Bowen, 'Deterrence and Asymmetry: Non-State Actors and Mass Casualty Terrorism', Contemporary Security Policy (2004), Vol.25, No.1

Policy Briefs and Op-Eds

Robert Downes ‘Why did Russia Boycott the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit?’, Polish Institute of International Affairs (15 April 2016)

Rob Downes and Geoffrey Chapman, Dirty business: challenges remain to Islamic State RDD usage, Jane's Intelligence Review, pp.46-51, 2016.

Robert Downes ‘What is a dirty bomb and how dangerous is it?’ World Economic Forum (15 April 2016)

Christopher Hobbs and Ioanna Iliopulus, ‘Controlling and Minimising Radioactive Sources’, Invited Paper for NGO Side Summit to the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit

Robert Downes and Daniel Salisbury ‘Is Belgium’s nuclear security up to scratch’, The Conversation (30 March 2016)

Robert Downes ‘What is a hydrogen bomb? (And why it might not be what North Korea exploded)’, The Conversation (6 January 2016)

Daniel Salisbury and Christopher Hobbs ‘Centres of Excellence in East Asia: Encouraging Collaborative Approaches to Nuclear Security’, Stanley Foundation Policy Analysis Brief (September 2015)

Christopher Hobbs ‘International Nuclear Security Education Network at Five Years’1540 Compass, Issue 9, Summer 2015 pp. 38-41

Dina Esfandiary and Matthew Cottee ‘The very small Islamic State WMD Threat’, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (15 October 2014)

Matthew Moran and Christopher Hobbs ‘Ukraine nuclear security fears were exaggerated’ (1 April 2014)

Alan Heyes ‘An Assessment of the Nuclear Security Centres of Excellence’, Stanley Foundation Policy Analysis Brief (May 2012)

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