Nuclear Nonproliferation

What is the Issue?

The world faces potential threats of terrorists acquiring the materials needed to make a nuclear weapon – particularly highly enriched uranium (HEU) and separated plutonium.  Even small amounts of these materials could be used to create a catastrophic weapon with the ability to kill hundreds of thousands of people. In response to this threat, the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA) Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation (DNN) has worked closely with a wide range of international partners, U.S. federal agencies, DOE national laboratories, and the private sector to detect, secure, and dispose of dangerous nuclear and radiological material.

What was the Intervention?

In his April 2009 Prague speech, President Obama stated that “we must ensure that terrorists never acquire a nuclear weapon. This is the most immediate and extreme threat to global security. One terrorist with one nuclear weapon could unleash massive destruction. Al Qaeda has said it seeks a bomb and that it would have no problem with using it. And we know that there is unsecured nuclear material across the globe. To protect our people, we must act with a sense of purpose without delay. So today I am announcing a new international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years. We will set new standards, expand our cooperation with Russia, pursue new partnerships to lock down these sensitive materials.”


As part of this initiative, DOE/NNSA accelerated efforts to remove or confirm the disposition of weapons-usable materials, specifically HEU and plutonium. The work required the dedication of hundreds of individuals from DOE, other U.S. government organizations, the U.S. national laboratories, and international partners.  DOE/NNSA overcame significant hurdles, and created new technical capabilities to accelerate the removal of this dangerous material.  DOE/NNSA assessed the worldwide inventory of nuclear materials; coordinated with other USG agencies and countries; and developed a prioritized list of the most vulnerable materials to be removed/eliminated. Quarterly meetings with international partners enhanced existing positive-working relations, helped to quickly resolve issues, and keep projects on schedule.  

How was performance management useful?

DOE/NNSA made this work a High Priority Performance Goal for FY 2009 – 2013 and an Agency Priority Goal for FY 2014 - 2015.  While DOE/NNSA had already been working since 1996 to eliminate these dangerous materials, making it a priority goal highlighted the Administration’s commitment to provide additional resources and accelerate these efforts.  

What was the impact?

DOE/NNSA surpassed its cumulative target of removing or disposing 5,332 kilograms of vulnerable nuclear material (HEU and plutonium) by the end of FY 2015.  Since the program’s inception, as of the end of FY 2015 DOE/NNSA removed or confirmed the disposition of 5,376 kilograms of HEU and plutonium, enough material for over 200 nuclear weapons and removed all HEU from 28 countries plus Taiwan.