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Nuclear Risk Reduction

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Siegfried Hecker at the memorial in honor of the American, Russian and Kazakh scientists who worked to clean up the former Semipalatinsk nuclear test site in Kazakhstan.
Photo credit: CISAC


Siegfried S. Hecker
Professor (Research), Management Science and Engineering; FSI and CISAC Senior Fellow

The Nuclear Risk Reduction initiative engages technical and policy experts to reduce nuclear risks by promoting collaboration between the United States and Russia, China and Pakistan. To achieve this, NRR conducts academic research on issues such as the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and hosts events to encourage expanding scientific collaboration around nuclear materials security and accountability, diversion scenarios of nuclear materials and emergency response to nuclear terrorism.

Former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry and Siegfried Hecker, former director of Los Alamos National Laboratory and a Senior Fellow at CISAC and FSI, started the NRR to address the changing face of nuclear threat, following the end of the Cold War and the rise of international terrorism. The project is based at the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC). NRR builds on the work of the Preventive Defense Project (PDP), which was established at Stanford and Harvard in 1997 under the leadership of Perry and Ashton B. Carter, a former senior political appointee at the Department of Defense in the Clinton and Obama administrations.

Today, Hecker leads NRR efforts with a research team at CISAC that includes CISAC Consulting Professor Chaim Braun, Visiting Scholar Larry Brandt, and Research Assistant Elliot Serbin.

NRR has a two-pronged approach for making the world a safer place:

1. Preventing nuclear terrorism

The 2010 Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, D.C. highlighted the importance of keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists. Despite this, some nations view the terrorist threat with less alarm. NRR engages the technical and military leadership in key countries to promote a common understanding of the dangers posed by such threats and what steps are needed to mitigate them. NRR is also working on a global effort to help countries develop comprehensive systems that can provide proper control and accounting, along with physical protection, of nuclear materials. 

2. Preventing proliferation of nuclear weapons

NRR recognizes that the risk of the use of nuclear weapons increases as more countries acquire them. This also increases the likelihood of sub-national or terrorist groups securing access to fissile materials for an improvised nuclear device.

Meanwhile, if nuclear power surges in use, nations must learn how to manage potential proliferation risks. This is particularly critical if nuclear power spreads to developing countries, since many have neither the requisite technological basis nor political stability to guarantee security. As part of NRR, Hecker works to engage colleagues around the world to address the risks of proliferation as nuclear power expands, and work to keep fewer fingers on the nuclear trigger.

The NRR project has recently completed a comprehensive historical analysis of North Korea's nuclear weapons program. 

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Elliot Serbin