Nuclear security and combating nuclear terrorism

Piratox Exercise. Photo credit : SDISPiratox Exercise. Photo credit : SDIS

As is borne out by the Livre blanc du gouvernement sur la sécurité intérieure face au terrorisme (White Paper on Domestic Security Against Terrorism) 1, France takes risks linked to the emergence of a form of nuclear terrorism very seriously, especially within a context of a concrete terrorist threat, illustrated by the Paris attacks of January 2015.

While the risk of a terrorist group obtaining a nuclear weapon is today low, it does exist, especially if such groups receive help from a State. In particular, the terrorists could consider attacking facilities which house nuclear or radioactive materials, or committing an attack (by releasing radioactive materials).

Against this backdrop, the international community is working to adopt a number of international instruments and systems.

The United Nations

Every two years since 2005, the United Nations General Assembly has adopted a resolution submitted by France on "Preventing the acquisition by terrorists of radioactive materials and sources" 2. Each year since 2002, France has also co-sponsored a resolution introduced by India, entitled "Measures to prevent terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction." The particular threat that stems form nuclear terrorism is also addressed in the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. The Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force, which was created in 2005 and reports to the United Nations Secretary General, put in place a working group (of which the IAEA is a member) which is more specifically responsible for "Preventing and Responding to WMD Terrorist Attacks. "

France is a party to thirteen sectoral conventions in the field of counter-terrorism negotiated at the United Nations. Furthermore, on 11 September 2013, it ratified the 2005 Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (ICSANT), which defines new offences covering both the use of nuclear and radioactive materials and strengthens cooperation between States. France advocates the universalization of these conventions, which form a full and coherent counter-terrorism framework, and proposes assistance to this end to States which so request.

In April 2004, the United Nations took a crucial step forward with the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1540 3, which aims to prevent the risk of terrorists acquiring WMD and their means of delivery. This resolution is especially important in that it was placed under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, thus enabling the Council to ask States to take specific measures to meet their obligations.

France remains determined to implement the objectives of this resolution and to help other countries to meet their own obligations. In 2011, it drew up an action plan aiming to set out the actions taken to promote the resolution in international bodies, as well as the competences which France can mobilize for third States in order to offer them assistance to implement the resolution.

In the spirit of this resolution, France believes that sensitive export control reduces the risk of terrorists accessing materials, equipment and technology that could be used to develop WMDs. To this end, France instigated a workshop held in October 2009 on the challenges of implementing Resolution 1540 in the Gulf Region.

In 2011, the mandate of Committee 1540, which the Security Council has charged with monitoring the implementation of the resolution, was extended for 10 years by Resolution 1977, and saw its action strengthened by the creation of a group of international experts, responsible for supporting the efforts of the States experiencing difficulties in implementing the resolution.


Both financially and through contributions from its experts, France supports the work of the IAEA to provide protection against nuclear and radiological terrorism. In particular, it promotes the universalization and implementation of the Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources. The European Union is the main contributor of IAEA funds for nuclear security, having given over €25 million since 2004.

The fourth IAEA nuclear security plan (2014-2017) stresses in particular :

- providing assistance to States, on request, to strengthen their national nuclear security regime (legislation, practices, training, material resources, etc.). For this, the IAEA encourages the development of Integrated Nuclear Security Support Plans (INSSPs) ;
- providing assistance to States, on request, to accede to and implement the relevant international instruments ;
- enhancing the relevant IAEA recommendations under the Nuclear Security Series and helping requesting States to implement them ;
- enhancing IT security (protecting networks and sensitive information) ;
- coordinating international nuclear security technical activities, in order to avoid overlap and duplication ;
- increasing the use by States of peer review missions (IPPAS) ;
- human resources with a view to the sustainable implementation of nuclear security measures ;
- risk reduction (by pursuing actions in the IAEA, at the request of States concerned, with a view to bolstering physical protection measures for existing facilities, developing State Systems of Accounting for and Control of Nuclear Materials, border control, etc.).

Furthermore, France encourages the definition and implementation of effective national standards to ensure security of storage and handling of sensitive materials to effectively prevent their diversion by malicious actors - terrorists in particular. In this regard, it considers that the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) 4 and its 2005 Amendment 5, adopted under the auspices of the IAEA, is an important international benchmark and an essential component in combating nuclear terrorism.

Other international initiatives

France supports international initiatives which help to combat proliferation and reduce the risk of the hostile or terrorist use of nuclear and radioactive materials.

Since 2002, it has thus taken part in collective efforts made under the G7/G8 Global Partnership (GP) Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction. The aim is to help States which so request to secure the production and storage of sensitive goods, to improve the physical protection of their facilities, to strengthen controls on borders and exports and to securely manage nuclear or radioactive materials, to eliminate chemical weapons and control dangerous pathogens in their possession.

France has also been taking part in the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT) since its creation in 2006. It has particularly focused on work to identify best practices in the area of detecting materials, preventing radiological or nuclear attacks and lessening the consequences of a possible attack.

Nuclear Security Summit

The Nuclear Security Summits have been held in 2010 (Washington D.C.), 2012 (Seoul) and 2014 (The Hague). This process has helped to mobilize States at the highest political level so that sufficient resources are allocated to strengthening national nuclear security regimes and increasing international cooperation to take account of the identified risks.

At the Summits, France was represented by the President of the Republic (2010 and 2014) and the Prime Minister (2012). It supported the communiqués of all three Summits and was actively involved in the topics discussed, such as developing alternatives to the use of highly-enriched uranium for high-performance research reactors or the production of medical radioisotopes or increasing security for the transport of nuclear materials. Alongside the United Kingdom, France also drew up a proposal to assist any State facing a risk of nuclear terrorism.

On the initiative of President Obama, a Summit will be organized in the United States in March 2016. France believes that this Summit should conclude and review the process which began in 2010 and set out recommendations on the post-2016 international nuclear security architecture.

France is still in favour of recognizing the central and fundamental role of the IAEA in carrying out and coordinating international technical work on nuclear security. A political working body will, however, remain necessary to mobilize States around this important theme and to ensure political consensus for the IAEA’s technical recommendations on the various issues raised. The conferences on nuclear security, which are organized within the framework of the IAEA every three years as of 2013, can in this regard be a valuable tool for continuing these political exchanges.

Concrete actions taken by France

France is taking concrete actions to prevent terrorist risks. From 2002 to 2012, within the framework of the G8 Global Partnership, France secured, in Russia, two Alfa-class nuclear submarine reactor cores, 898 nuclear fuel assemblies and the radioactive sources (strontium) of 16 radioisotope thermoelectric generators, updated the nuclear reprocessing facilities at the Mayak complex (Russia) and helped build a secure radioactive materials storage site (Ukraine, Vector project).

Since the end of the 1990s, France has initiated or contributed to programmes to secure radioactive sources in States lacking the resources to optimally manage their end-of-life. In particular, it helped States to locate and secure so-called "orphan" sources, or sources that were delicate to handle (Georgia, Ukraine, Russia). Learning from these experiences, France, in cooperation with the IAEA, compiled an inventory of spent radioactive sources of French origin around the world. On this basis, sources of French origin were brought back to France in cases where States in which they were located lacked the adequate security conditions.

These operations, which were carried out as part of funding pledged under the G8 Global Partnership, were able to take place within a national framework but were mostly conducted in partnership with the IAEA or other partners (Germany, United States, Norway, United Kingdom, Russia, etc.). In 2011, France concluded with the IAEA an Integrated Nuclear Security Support Plan (INSSP) which in particular sets out the cooperation framework regarding the security of radioactive sources. Since 2002, France has invested over $5.4 million in securing about 40 sources in 10 countries, just under half of which were brought back to France.

On the occasion of NSS 2014, the President of the French Republic made security of the sources one of France’s priorities, which will increase its efforts to strengthen the relevant international framework, promote alternative technologies for high activity sources and improve the cooperation of States which supply sources to develop common practices on the management of their end-of-life. Furthermore, in 2014, additional funds ($480,000) were allocated to new operations for securing sources and an additional effort will be made in 2015.

The abovementioned support plan, which was coordinated by the CEA, forms the cooperation mechanism within the framework of which France is providing technical support to the activities of the IAEA as regards nuclear security and protection against nuclear terrorism. It mainly concerns issues related to physical protection, security of sources, improvement of national regimes and accession to relevant international instruments. It aims to enhance national capabilities in organizing security, laws, methodology and expertise and a culture of security.

Under the Plan, France has taken part in several IAEA expert missions and enabled Pakistan, for example, to acquire vehicles to confiscate and detect nuclear and radioactive material at borders. Furthermore, since 2010 and until 2016, it has made available to the IAEA, free of charge, an expert responsible for contributing to the Agency’s peer review missions (especially IPPAS).

France indeed supports the work of the IAEA aiming to supply nuclear security assessments and advice to States which so request. For its part, in November 2011 France welcomed an IPPAS (International Physical Protection Advisory Service) mission which assessed its national regime for the physical protection of nuclear facilities and its implementation in one of its nuclear plants. Furthermore, France organized the first international seminar on the lessons learned from this type of mission, in Paris on 4-5 December 2013, in cooperation with the IAEA.

For further information :

Washington Summit

Seoul Summit

The Hague Summit