Nuclear Challenges

Seeking a stronger and more diverse nuclear field through a three-year, $30 million capstone investment.

Our Strategy

Our three-year, roughly $30 million capstone investment will center on four areas of work that collectively aim to strengthen and diversify the nuclear field. We will:

  • Cultivate diversity and empower new voices and underrepresented communities in the nuclear talent pipeline;
  • Innovate by supporting a research network to challenge nuclear deterrence theory;
  • Lead at the nexus of nuclear and climate risks, with a focus on mitigating the security implications of nuclear power’s expansion as a climate solution; and
  • Preserve support for a limited number of key organizations in the field and sustain critical nuclear dialogues.

These areas of grantmaking emerged from a multi-year evaluation and learning process in partnership with our Office of Evaluation and our evaluation and learning partner ORS Impact. It is designed to blend sustained support for core organizations and diplomatic efforts with more experimental work to support the field’s evolution and growth. Our theory of action is that investing in a more diverse and inclusive nuclear field—demographically and intellectually—will improve the prospects for it to succeed in future policy debates and fundraising efforts, with the ultimate goal of reducing global nuclear risk.

Why We Support This Work

Despite significant reductions in the number of nuclear weapons since the height of the Cold War, nearly 13,500 remain today. Rising geopolitical tensions and the non-state actor threat raise the risk of accidental or intentional use. Just one detonation could change the contours of society. Multiple detonations could kill millions, devastate the environment, disrupt financial systems, and cause widespread chaos. This could occur in a heartbeat at any time and presents an existential threat.

Civil society has a critical role to play in identifying and mitigating nuclear risks through policy research, analysis, publication, and engagement in public and private settings. To this end, we have invested in civil society to reduce nuclear risks for over three decades, providing roughly $100 million in nuclear grants from 2015-2020 alone. We are proud of this legacy of giving to civil society focused on reducing nuclear dangers. In 2021, with the end of our time-limited Big Bet strategy, our focus shifted to implementing a capstone project. At the conclusion of the capstone grants in 2023, we will exit the nuclear field.

Expected Outcomes

We expect the Nuclear Challenges capstone investment to generate discrete outcomes to strengthen and diversify the field. The outcomes we seek include:

  • Increased attention, recognition, and influence of the voices of women and Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) experts in the nuclear field;
  • New and strengthened policies and practices in the field that promote diversity, equity and inclusion, consistent with the Just Imperative;
  • A body of research that seeds new thinking on challenging and ultimately replacing nuclear deterrence theory as the predominant lens through which we view nuclear weapons strategy;
  • Increased and more productive dialogue about the role of nuclear power as a climate solution and policy options to anticipate and mitigate its security implications; and
  • Support for core organizations in the nuclear field as they seek alternative sources of funding.

Funding Priorities

We fund work that falls within the four pillars of our Nuclear Challenges capstone investment:

  • Encouraging a diverse pipeline of talent in the nuclear field;
  • Challenging nuclear deterrence theory;
  • Providing leadership around the intersection of nuclear and climate issues; and
  • Supporting key organizations in the nuclear field and helping sustain diplomatic dialogues.

MacArthur made its final grants to the nuclear field in 2022. All grant projects are expected to finish in 2024.

Although we have made our final grants under this program and are no longer accepting proposals, we welcome your thoughts on relevant issues.

Evaluation for Learning

Evaluation of our work is a critical tool for informing our decision making, leading to better results and more effective stewardship of resources. We develop customized evaluation designs for each of our programs based on the context, problem, opportunity, and approach to the work. Evaluation is not a one-time event. It is an ongoing process of collecting feedback and using that information to support our grantees and adjust our strategy.

We are engaged in a rigorous, iterative, and collaborative process with an external learning and evaluation partner, ORS Impact, in order to measure progress against our strategy. This process entails the development of an evaluation design that is informed by four information needs: landscape, feedback, performance and outcomes, and impact. The focus of collecting this information is on learning. We aim to measure and evaluate the progress of strategy, test assumptions underpinning it, and enhance our understanding of the context in which our strategy operates. Our latest evaluation is the 2020 Nuclear Challenges evaluation report.

Findings and analyses from evaluation activities are posted publicly as they become available.