WASHINGTON, DC/MOSCOW – Four years ago, a devastating tsunami crashed into the coast of Japan. Fifty-foot waves breached the seawall of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, cutting off its emergency power supply and disabling its cooling systems.
The nuclear accident was the worst since the meltdown of the Chernobyl power plant in 1986. Investigators concluded that one of the underlying causes was complacency: those in charge of the facility believed that their safety systems were robust, and there was no effective independent oversight.
The disaster in Japan has spurred reforms in the field of nuclear safety. But when it comes to nuclear security, complacency remains a major problem. We must not wait until tragedy strikes to do something about it.
Today, well over 1.5 million kilograms of highly enriched uranium and plutonium – key ingredients for nuclear weapons – are dispersed across hundreds of facilities in 25 countries. Some are poorly secured. Yet enough nuclear material to fill a small bag of sugar is all it takes to construct a device with the potential to kill hundreds of thousands of people and inflict billions of dollars in damage.