As the nuclear age advanced, concerns grew that nuclear material used for peaceful purposes could instead fall into the hands of non-state actors looking to do harm.
That is why, in 1974, the United States proposed an initiative to bring the international community together to improve the physical protection of nuclear material used for peaceful purposes.
This initiative became the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM), an international framework to combat such criminal activity. Since it entered into force on February 8, 1987, 164 countries and EURATOM — the European Atomic Energy Community — have become parties to the Convention.
The CPPNM is a foundational, binding agreement aimed at reinforcing global nuclear security. It established legal obligations to protect nuclear material intended for peaceful purposes during international transport. The Convention also required parties to criminalize the theft, embezzlement, or fraudulent obtainment of such nuclear material. Parties to the CPPNM recognized the need to address critical gaps in the protection of nuclear material and nuclear facilities.
In 2005, parties came together for a conference to amend the convention. The result was a critical amendment, which entered into force on May 8, 2016. This amendment greatly strengthened the Convention by adding obligations relating to the protection of nuclear material in domestic use, storage, and transport and the protection of nuclear facilities, as well as protection of nuclear material in international transport. It also expanded the list of offenses that parties are obligated to criminalize to include smuggling of nuclear material and sabotage of nuclear facilities.
Together, the Convention and its Amendment (known collectively as the A/CPPNM) allow countries to collaborate in establishing and implementing their obligations while enhancing information sharing. In particular, the Amended Convention contains specific provisions to help bring to justice those who commit acts of nuclear theft, smuggling, or sabotage.
“The Convention and its Amendment play a critical role in ensuring that the nuclear material used for peaceful purposes doesn’t get into the hands of people who may want to misuse it.”Rafael Mariano GrossiDirector General, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
Not only does the A/CPPNM strengthen the world’s ability to combat nuclear terrorism and bring criminals to justice, but it also helps countries around the world benefit from the peaceful uses of nuclear science and technology, whether for energy, research, or sustainable development goals. By expanding parties’ obligations to physically protect nuclear material and nuclear facilities used for peaceful purposes, the A/CPPNM helps to sustain access to peaceful uses and preserve its benefits for all.
The Amended Convention helps make our world safer, and from March 28 to April 1, 2022, States Parties from across the globe will meet in Vienna for the A/CPPNM’s very first review conference. At this unprecedented event, they will demonstrate their commitment to strengthening and advancing global nuclear security.
This conference takes place at a critical time for nuclear security. It has never been clearer that the international community must come together to protect nuclear material and nuclear facilities. The United States strongly supports and reaffirms its commitment to the A/CPPNM and looks forward to working with our partners to strengthen this critical tool to improve our collective nuclear security.
Kathryn Crummitt is an intern in the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation.