Despite significant reductions in the number of nuclear weapons since the height of the Cold War, more than 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 these fissile materials 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 fissile materials 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.
Nuclear Challenges focuses on identifying political and technical solutions to address the nuclear threat, by reducing the world’s reliance on highly enriched uranium and plutonium. It 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. Supported areas of work include:
- 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, and the nuclear nonproliferation regime;
- 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;
- Underlying geopolitical conditions.
Unsolicited proposals are not being considered at this time.
Updated March 2016