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Nuclear Challenges

Our Goal

Seeking to reduce the nuclear threat, particularly by decreasing the availability of, and reliance on, weapons-useable nuclear material. 

Why We Support This Work

Despite significant reductions in the number of nuclear weapons since the height of the Cold War, almost 15,000 remain today. Rising geopolitical tensions, the nonstate actor threat, and command and control challenges raise the risk of accidental or intentional use. Just one detonation could change the contours of global society. Multiple detonations at once could kill millions, devastate the environment, disrupt financial systems, and throw cities and countries into chaos. This destruction could occur in a heartbeat at any time and presents an existential threat.

The key ingredients for nuclear weapons—highly enriched uranium and plutonium—are in plentiful supply. There are nearly 2,000 tons of weapons-useable material in the global stockpile, which fuels existing nuclear weapons arsenals and includes enough additional materials to build tens of thousands of new weapons. Some countries are producing more weapons-useable material to fuel additional weapons. Worldwide, these materials are subject to varying degrees of security and susceptibility to theft or diversion.

Complicating matters is the dual-use nature of nuclear technology. As nuclear power plays a role in diversifying energy portfolios, reducing carbon emissions, and curtailing pollution, the policies and technologies countries adopt will have implications for international security. If countries fuel these civilian applications with nuclear material that could also be used for weapons, the risks intensify.

The challenge is to curtail the risk that nuclear technology will be used to add to weapons stockpiles while harnessing the same technology for peaceful purposes. If countries can employ alternatives to creating weapons-useable material, while meeting growing demand for carbon-free energy, they could reduce the existential threat that nuclear technology poses.

Our Approach

In this time of increasing nuclear tensions, Nuclear Challenges focuses on identifying political and technical solutions to address the nuclear threat, particularly by reducing the world’s reliance on highly enriched uranium and plutonium. In addition, Nuclear Challenges believes a strong nuclear regime is a necessary condition to advancing this weapons-useable material agenda. It therefore also focuses on cultivating an effective nongovernmental sector that develops and advances viable policy recommendations to protect and strengthen the nuclear regime.

Nuclear Challenges seeks the best advice from diverse fields, including the natural and social sciences, industry, and the policy community, and promotes multi-stakeholder collaboration to inform effective decisionmaking. The work includes policy-relevant scholarship, stakeholder engagement, and outreach and dissemination of policy prescriptions, as well as advanced education on the nuclear threat. In particular, it aims to spur innovative thinking and build the human capital required to move this agenda forward.

Funding Priorities

  • Analytical work on the health of the nuclear regime (i.e. the principles, norms, rules, and decisionmaking procedures related to reducing the threats posed by nuclear weapons, materials, and technologies);
  • Nuclear fuel cycle policies, including weapons-useable material security, reduction, elimination, and waste;
  • Global governance of nuclear material production and stockpiles, including both military and civilian materials;
  • Technical aspects of nuclear energy plans and policies, including alternatives to weapons-useable material for energy purposes;
  • Innovative verification and compliance mechanisms, and the impact of new technology on weapons-useable material production; and
  • Underlying geopolitical conditions.

While we are not accepting unsolicited proposals at this time, we are always eager to hear new ideas and perspectives.

Measurement & Evaluation for Learning

Nuclear Challenges is engaged in a rigorous, iterative, and collaborative process with an external Learning and Evaluation Partner in order to measure progress against its 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.

Expected Outcomes

In the short-term, we expect our grantmaking strategy will lead to a stronger, more robust, and more influential nuclear field, and also stronger relationships between key countries on nuclear issues. Success will be demonstrated by:

  • A stable and growing bench of nuclear experts and influential voices within the field;
  • More connections among actors within the nuclear field and between those actors and other fields (e.g. climate change);
  • Increased availability of viable, relevant policy solutions;
  • Increased awareness of risks and solutions among policy makers; and
  • Improved communications, trust, and cooperation among target countries.

Achievement of these short-term outcomes will lead to a strengthened base of support and strengthened alliances among policy makers and other key actors in the nuclear field, such as:

  • Greater agreement among policy makers about policy solutions;
  • Greater political will among policy makers to take action in support of those solutions;
  • More bipartisan policy-related decisions that reflect those policy solutions;
  • Improved dialogue among key countries about protecting and strengthening the nuclear regime, those rules and norms that govern the nuclear sphere; and
  • Greater alignment of efforts to strengthen the regime within and among the leadership of key countries.

Greater support and alliances will strengthen and protect aspects of the nuclear regime, namely:

  • Policies, treaties, and doctrines that govern and support principles and norms, including nonproliferation, disarmament, peaceful use of nuclear technology, non-first use, and non-testing, are improved and/or maintained; and
  • Policies, norms, and principles of the regime are broadly upheld and defended by leaders.

We posit that these enabling conditions will allow for developments that promote an end to production and elimination of stockpiles of weapons-useable material, such as the adoption of mechanisms to govern the nuclear fuel cycle and down-blending and/or disposal of weapons-usable material. In turn, ending the production of weapon-useable material and eliminating existing stockpiles will lead to reduced nuclear risk, progress toward a nuclear weapons-free world, and greater global security.

Findings and analyses from our evaluation activities will be published as they become available.


Updated July 2018

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