Nuclear Security Summit 2016

Commonly Used Terms 

***These definitions do not represent the official views of any government or agency involved in the Nuclear Security Summit and are provided only to assist reporters unfamiliar with some of the commonly used terms in the field of nuclear security.*** 

Section I: The Nuclear Security Summit

Communiqué: The public summary statement issued following the Summit that describes the consensus position of participants and puts forth commitments for future action.

House Gift:  A national commitment or accomplishment that strengthens nuclear security.

Gift Basket: Specific nuclear security commitments from a subset of Summit participants, often in the form of a joint statement.

Sherpa:  Sherpas are the officially designated officials who represent their governments in preparations for the Nuclear Security Summits.  Their tasks include planning the Summit’s content and agenda and negotiating consensus documents.  

Washington Work Plan:  Created at the first Nuclear Security Summit in 2010, the Washington Work Plan provides detailed guidance for concrete national and international actions to implement the pledges in the 2010 Washington Communiqué.

Section II: The Global Nuclear Security Architecture

Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM):  The CPPNM provides for state cooperation in the protection, recovery, and return of stolen nuclear material, and obligates that states criminalize certain activities involving the misuse or threatened malicious use of nuclear material, including as extraditable offenses. It also requires that member states take appropriate steps to protect nuclear material in international transit.  The CPPNM entered into force in 1987.

2005 Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM/A): The CPPNM/A strengthens the original treaty in a number of ways, including by imposing requirements for the physical protection of nuclear material for peaceful purposes in domestic use as well as in domestic and international transport.  It will enter into force once two-thirds of the CPPNM’s members ratify the Amendment.

Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT): The Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT) is a voluntary international partnership of 86 nations and five official observer organizations that are committed to strengthening global capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to nuclear terrorism.  The GICNT enables partners to cooperate on the plans, policies, procedures, and interoperability measures that help to reduce the threat of nuclear or radiological terrorism. 

Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction (“Global Partnership”):  The Global Partnership began at the 2002 Group of Eight (G8) Summit as a working group of the G8, now G7. It was originally a 10-year, $20 billion initiative to prevent terrorists or states that support them from acquiring or developing weapons of mass destruction (WMD).  The GP was extended in 2011 and has grown to include 29 partner countries and has allocated well over  $21 billion worldwide to cooperative projects in WMD threat reduction, such as dismantling nuclear submarines, destroying chemical weapons, chemical security, bio-security, redirecting scientists and engineers with WMD experience to peaceful purposes, and improving national border facilities. 

IAEA Nuclear Security Series: A series of publications by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) experts that address nuclear security issues relating to the prevention and detection of, and response to, theft, sabotage, unauthorized access and illegal transfer or other malicious acts involving nuclear material and other radioactive substances and their associated facilities.

IAEA Information Circular 869 (INFCIRC/869):  The Joint Statement entitled “Strengthening Nuclear Security Implementation,” that was announced at the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit, and was published as IAEA INFCIRC/869 in October 2014.  INFCIRC/869 looks toward laying the groundwork for a more robust international system based on national commitments to the domestic application of international principles and guidelines and on actions to continuously improve nuclear security.

IAEA Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources:  This Code of Conduct contains guidance on proper practices for nations to follow in the development and harmonization of policies, laws and regulations on the safety and security of radioactive sources. 

IAEA Commission on Safety Standards (CSS):  The CSS is a standing body of senior government officials holding national responsibilities for establishing consistent standards relevant to nuclear, radiation, transport and waste safety, and to emergency preparedness and response.  

IAEA International Nuclear Security Advisory Service (INSServ): An international peer review and advisory service, conducted at the request of an IAEA Member State, to assess the State’s Nuclear Security Architecture for nuclear and other radioactive material out of regulatory control.

IAEA International Physical Protection Advisory Service (IPPAS):  An international peer review and advisory service, conducted at the request of an IAEA Member State, to assess the State’s system of physical protection, compare it with international best practices, and make recommendations for improvements.

International Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (ICSANT):  The Convention provides a legal basis for international cooperation in the investigation, prosecution, and extradition of those who commit terrorist acts involving radioactive material or a nuclear device, or any device that may emit radiation or disperse radioactive material.  It also establishes related offenses and requires domestic criminalization of those offenses.   

Global Nuclear Security Architecture: The legal instruments, international organizations, initiatives, and norms aimed at preventing terrorists, criminals, or other unauthorized actors from acquiring nuclear materials. 

Nuclear Security Training and Support Center (NSSC):  National institutions that support education and training in nuclear security, enhance nuclear security culture, and maintain a well-trained cadre of technical experts.  They provide specific technical support on the effective use and maintenance of instruments and other nuclear security technical systems.  They also provide scientific support for the detection of and the response to a nuclear terrorist event.

UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1540:  UNSCR 1540, adopted in 2004, establishes legally binding obligations on all UN Member States to have and enforce appropriate and effective measures against the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons (WMD), and their delivery systems, including by establishing controls on related materials.  UNSCR 1540 closes gaps in the framework of nonproliferation treaties and conventions to help prevent terrorists and criminal organizations from obtaining the world’s most dangerous weapons.

Section III: Nuclear Terms

Fissile Material:  Materials (such as uranium and plutonium) that can be split (fission) by neutrons in a self-sustaining chain-reaction, thereby releasing enormous amounts of energy.  Fissile material is used in nuclear reactors and in nuclear weapons.   The primary fissile materials are uranium-235 and plutonium-239; uranium-233 and plutonium-241 are also fissile.

Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU): HEU (also referred to as high-enriched uranium), is defined as uranium whose proportion of uranium-235 (U-235), the fissile isotope of uranium, has been increased to 20% or greater.  HEU is used in some research reactors and naval reactors.  Nuclear weapons generally require around 90% enrichment.  The natural uranium mined from the earth consists of about 0.7% U-235.

Low-Enriched Uranium (LEU): Uranium that contains the isotope uranium-235 in a concentration of less than 20% and greater than 0.7%. Most commercial nuclear reactor fuel for generating electricity is enriched to 5% or less uranium 235.

Downblending:  The process of turning HEU into LEU for use as commercial nuclear fuel.  Downblending HEU to LEU effectively eliminates the risk that it could be used to make a nuclear weapon if stolen by terrorists

HEU Minimization:  The efforts to replace HEU with LEU in civil applications, downblend HEU to LEU, or develop replacement technologies not relying on HEU, so as to render future new civil uses of HEU unnecessary.

Material Out of Regulatory Control (MORC): Nuclear or other radioactive material that should be under regulatory control, but has not, either because controls have failed or because they never existed.

Molybdenum-99 (Mo-99):  Mo-99 is the most common radio-isotope used in the medical field.  It quickly decays into an isotope called technetium-99m, which is used in radiopharmaceuticals for medical scans that can, among other things, detect cancer and assess blood supply to the heart.  

Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel:  MOX fuel consists of a mix of uranium and plutonium oxides and is an alternative to the LEU fuel used in most nuclear power plants.  It is typically manufactured from plutonium recovered by reprocessing of used reactor fuel.

Nuclear Forensics: The scientific and technical analysis of nuclear or radioactive materials in support of criminal or regulatory investigations.

Plutonium (Pu):  A fissile material that can be used in nuclear weapons and nuclear reactors.  Plutonium is man-made—primarily in nuclear reactors where uranium-238 absorbs a neutron, eventually creating plutonium-239 and other plutonium isotopes.

Plutonium Disposition:  The process of disposing of surplus, weapons-usable plutonium in a safe, secure, and environmentally sound manner.  The plutonium is converted into proliferation-resistant forms that cannot be used in nuclear weapons.

Weapon-Grade: Fissile material of a high concentration, normally used in nuclear weapons.  All plutonium (except relatively pure plutonium 238) is considered weapon-usable, but weapon-grade plutonium is generally considered to be greater than 90% in the isotope plutonium-239.  Weapon-grade uranium is generally considered to be greater than 90% in the isotope uranium-235.  Such fissile material is found in nuclear weapons, and in some research reactors and naval propulsion systems.

Weapon-Usable Fissile Material:  HEU and plutonium that may be used in a nuclear weapon.   This includes nuclear material with lower enrichment or concentration than would by typically considered “weapon-grade.”  Such material includes HEU used in some research reactors, as well as plutonium separated from spent fuel of commercial nuclear reactors.

***These definitions do not represent the official views of any government or agency involved in the Nuclear Security Summit and are provided only to assist reporters unfamiliar with some of the commonly used terms in the field of nuclear security.***