Security and Arms Control Webinars

The Summer Symposium hosts security experts from across the globe, speaking on technical issues related to global security.
Trying to join a webinar? View instructions here.

This page contains abstracts and in most cases recordings of lectures on global security issues, including missile defense, North Korea and Iran, nonproliferation, and U.S. nuclear weapons. The lectures come from webinars, presented in either shockwave (.swf) or video files that can be viewed in a web browser.

For more information, please contact:

  • George Lewis at Cornell University, gnl3 [at]
  • David Wright with the Union of Concerned Scientists, dwright [at]

2015 lectures

Timur Kadyshev
“An Assessment of Russian Concerns about Missile Defenses in Europe”

Tamara Patton Schell
“3D Modeling for Nuclear Facility Analysis”

2014 lectures

Frank von Hippel
“A Global Cleanout of Fissile Material”

Li Bin
“A Deductive Analysis of North Korea’s Nuclear Weaponization Trajectory”

Jonas Siegel
“Comprehensive Nuclear Material Accounting”

James Acton
“Fast and Furious: Analyzing Hypersonic Boost-glide Weapon Test Flights”

Brian Weeden
“An Open Source Analysis of China's Anti-satellite Testing in Outer Space”

Pavel Podvig
“Modernization of the Russian Strategic Forces”

Mark Gubrud
“Stopping Killer Robots: Prospects after the May 2014 Geneva Meeting”

David Wright
“An Introduction to Ballistic Missiles”

Wu Riqiang
“How to Reach a Sino-U.S. Common Understanding on Missile Defense”

Adam Bernstein
“WATCHMAN: A Water Cherenkov Monitor for Anti-Neutrinos”

Ali Ahmad
“Balancing the Sword: A Conversion Proposal for Iran’s Arak Reactor”

Bethany Goldblum
“Informational Sensing for Arms Control & Nonproliferation”

2013 lectures

George Lewis
“How Not to Build a National (or Global) Ballistic Missile Defense System”

Markus Schiller
“North Korea’s Unha-3 Launcher: Insights and Consequences”

Matthew McKinzie
“Reducing Alert Rates of Nuclear Weapons”

Ted Postol
“Analyzing Iron Dome”

Mark Gubrud
“Stopping Killer Robots: Compliance Measures for an Autonomous Weapons Convention"

Scott Kemp
“Revisiting the History of Centrifuge Proliferation”

Alex Glaser
“A New Approach to Nuclear Warhead Verification Using a Zero-Knowledge Protocol”

Ed Lyman
“Small Modular Reactors: Safety, Security, and Cost Concerns”

Lisbeth Gronlund
“The Future of the US Nuclear Weapons Complex”

Ivanka Barzashka & Ivan Oelrich   
“The Iranian Nuclear Deal: Technical Context and Prospects”

Timur Kadyshev | February 5, 2015
“An Assessment of Russian Concerns about Missile Defenses in Europe”

ABSTRACT: Over the last several years U.S. missile defense deployments in Europe have been one of the greatest sources of friction between NATO and Russia. These defenses will supposedly protect European NATO member countries against limited regional threats from the Middle East, but Moscow fears the system will eventually undercut its nuclear deterrent and has threatened to undertake “asymmetric” military countermeasures.

This research work includes technical assessment of Russian concerns about U.S. missile defenses, based on mathematical modeling of missile interception. Some of the conclusions of this work include: the capabilities of the European defenses against Russian ICBMs depend not only on the parameters of interceptors and radars used, but also on the intercept scenario, i.e. on the timing and sequence of the system’s operation; even for the “optimistic” interception scenario, the system is not capable of affecting a significant part of Russian ICBMs; real interception is much more complex than the kinematic model used, and is hardly possible against countermeasures. However, since military planning has to take into account worst case scenarios, and given the expandable nature of European system, Russian concerns regarding future deployments and upgrading of the systems could be justified.

BIO: Since 1995, Timur has worked at the Moscow Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies, one of the first non-governmental think tanks in Russia providing independent technical expertise on international security issues. He received his Ph.D. in mathematical modeling from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology in 1991, and then spent nine months at MIT working on a project to assess the North Korean ballistic missile program. From 1995-2001 he worked on the Strategic Aviation part of the Russian Nuclear Weapons Project and spent the 2001-2 academic year at Stanford CISAC analyzing the future US-Russian strategic nuclear balance in light of changing US-Russian relations. Since then he has worked on studies of strategic weapons control and reduction, arms control and security issues raised by ballistic missile proliferation, and missile defenses.

Return to top

Tamara Patton Schell | April 2, 2015
“3D Modeling for Nuclear Facility Analysis”

ABSTRACT: This presentation will take an in-depth look at 3D modeling with SketchUp and other tools to examine nuclear infrastructure and equipment. Patton Schell will discuss analytic applications of models through cases relevant to the DPRK, Iran, Pakistan and Syria. She will also discuss 3D construction methods and techniques, including how to extract heights from satellite imagery and how to usefully integrate photos into the modeling process.

An article about her work on Pakistan’s Khushab reactor can be found here.

BIO: Tamara Patton Schell is a Research Associate at the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation (VCDNP), which she joined in December 2013. She previously served as a Researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in the Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Programme. Prior to that, she worked as a Visiting Fellow with the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs in Geneva where she supported the work of the Conference on Disarmament. Additionally, she has worked with the US Naval Postgraduate School's Common Operational Research Environment (CORE) Laboratory and Remote Sensing Center, as well as the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu. Patton holds an MA in Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies from the Monterey Institute of International Studies and a BA in International Studies from the University of Washington.

Return to top

2014 lectures

Frank von Hippel | January 23, 2014
“A Global Cleanout of Fissile Material”

BIO: Frank von Hippel is an Emeritus Professor of Public and International Affairs in Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School and co-chair of the International Panel on Fissile Materials. For many years he was the head of Princeton’s Program on Science and Global Security, and in 1993-4 served as assistant director for national security in the White House Office of Science and Technology. Prior to coming to Princeton, he worked for ten years in the field of elementary-particle theoretical physics. He has written extensively on the technical basis for nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament initiatives, the future of nuclear energy, and improved automobile fuel economy. He won a 1993 MacArthur fellowship in recognition of his outstanding contributions to his fields of research. He holds a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Oxford University.

Return to top

Li Bin | February 20, 2014
“A Deductive Analysis of North Korea’s Nuclear Weaponization Trajectory”

ABSTRACT: North Korea has made consistent efforts in developing its nuclear devices and delivery systems and it has caused deep concerns in the international community on North Korea’s nuclear missile capability. If North Korea could successfully miniaturize its nuclear device, it would have big chance to develop and deploy nuclear missiles. As there is very little information publicly available about the technical details of North Korea’s nuclear devices, some deductive analysis is therefore useful to understand the trajectory and stage of North Korea’s nuclear weapon program.

BIO: Li Bin is a professor of international relations at Tsinghua University in Beijing, where he was the founding director of the Arms Control Program at the Institute of International Studies. He previously directed the arms control division at the Institute of Applied Physics and Computational Mathematics (IAPCM), where he also served as executive director of the Program for Science and National Security Studies. Li was a Social Science Research Council–MacArthur Foundation Peace and Security Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Princeton University. He is also a senior associate working jointly in the Nuclear Policy Program and the Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington DC.

A physicist by training, Li got a PhD from IAPCM, becoming the first person in China to earn a degree in Arms Control Physics. In 1996, he joined the Chinese delegation on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty negotiations. His research focuses on China’s nuclear and arms control policy and on U.S.-Chinese nuclear relations.

Return to top

Jonas Siegel | March 6, 2014
“Comprehensive Nuclear Material Accounting”

ABSTRACT: Current national and international standards for accounting for nuclear materials are insufficient to meet current nuclear security, nonproliferation, and international security demands. Detecting and deterring both the diversion of nuclear materials to state-level nuclear weapons programs nuclear material accounting and the diversion or theft of materials by non-state actors requires improvements in current standards. Reductions in nuclear weapons stockpiles and the stockpiles of nuclear materials designated for military use also necessitate more stringent accounting standards and greater transparency about both material stockpiles and operational practices. This presentation will examine a range of current material accounting practices and requirements and argue that in order for nuclear material accounting to contribute to global nuclear risk reduction activities, it will need to transition from ensuring the non-diversion of nuclear materials to military uses to providing positive inventory control of nuclear materials, whereby national and international authorities can actively account for all designated nuclear materials on a continuous and detailed basis. It will also identify a set of facility- and national-level MC&A requirements that would help to fulfill the goal of comprehensive nuclear material accounting. This presentation is based on a new CISSM report, “Comprehensive Nuclear Material Accounting,” available here.

BIO: Jonas Siegel is a project manager at the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM), a research center at the University of Maryland's School of Public Policy. Siegel contributes to the center’s Nuclear Past, Present, and Future project, and currently leads an effort to develop minimum requirements for a comprehensive global nuclear material accounting system. Prior to joining CISSM, Siegel was the editor of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Return to top

James Acton | March 27, 2014
“Fast and Furious: Analyzing Hypersonic Boost-glide Weapon Test Flights”

ABSTRACT: There is currently a resurgence of interest in hypersonic boost-glide weapons. The United States has been developing them for a decade under the Conventional Prompt Global Strike program and conducted its first successful test in 2011. China conducted its first test in January 2014 and there is evidence that Russia is also pursuing them. These programs are already complicating arms control efforts and, if fielded, boost-glide weapons could have profound implications, both positive and negative, for international security. Understanding these weapons and their effects therefore presents an important challenge. To this end, I present a simple mathematical model of the boost-glide trajectory. I use it to analyze the tests flights from one prototype U.S. system (the Hypersonic Technology Vehicle-2) to infer certain characteristics of the glider, including its lift-to-drag ratio. This analysis highlights the technical challenges confronting the development of boost-glide weapons and their potential military weaknesses.

BIO: James M. Acton is a senior associate in the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment. He has a PhD in theoretical physics from Oxford University. He specializes in deterrence, disarmament, nonproliferation, and nuclear energy. His current research focuses on the implications of next-generation conventional weapons for both the nuclear disarmament process and international security more broadly.

Return to top

Brian Weeden | March 27, 2014
“An Open Source Analysis of China's Anti-satellite Testing in Outer Space”

ABSTRACT: On May 13, 2013, China launched a rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan Province. The Chinese Academy of Sciences stated it was a high-altitude scientific research mission, but unofficial U.S. government sources say it was actually a test of a new ballistic missile related to China’s anti-satellite (ASAT) program.

In this webinar, Brian Weeden discusses the open source analysis he recently published on the May 2013 launch. This analysis, which included commercial satellite imagery purchased from DigitalGlobe, strongly suggests that the launch from Xichang was the test of the rocket component of a new direct ascent ASAT weapons system derived from a road-mobile ballistic missile. The system appears to be designed to place a kinetic kill vehicle on a trajectory to deep space that could reach medium earth orbit (MEO), highly elliptical orbit (HEO), and geostationary Earth orbit (GEO). If true, this would represent a significant development in China’s ASAT capabilities.

Brian’s recent paper is available here.

BIO: Brian Weeden is the Technical Advisor for Secure World Foundation, a non-profit organization that focuses on the long-term sustainability of space. He has 14 years of professional experience in the national and international space security arena. Prior to joining SWF, he was an officer in the U.S. Air Force working on space and nuclear operations. He is currently a Ph.D. Candidate in Science and Technology Public Policy at George Washington University.

Return to top

Pavel Podvig | March 27, 2014
“Modernization of the Russian Strategic Forces”

BIO: Pavel Podvig is an independent analyst based in Geneva, where he runs his research project, "Russian Nuclear Forces". He is also a Senior Research Fellow at the UN Institute for Disarmament Research and a member of the International Panel on Fissile Materials.

Pavel started his work on arms control at the Center for Arms Control Studies at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT), which was the first independent research organization in Russia dedicated to analysis of technical issues of disarmament and nonproliferation. Pavel led the Center for Arms Control Studies project that produced the book, Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces (MIT Press, 2001). In recognition of his work in Russia, the American Physical Society awarded Podvig the Leo Szilard Lectureship Award of 2008 (with Anatoli Diakov). Podvig worked with the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University, the Security Studies Program at MIT, and the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University. He has a physics degree from MIPT and PhD in political science from the Moscow Institute of World Economy and International Relations.

Return to top

Mark Gubrud with Frank Sauer, commentator | May 29th, 2014
“Stopping Killer Robots: Prospects after the May 2014 Geneva Meeting”

ABSTRACT: Autonomous weapons are robotic systems that can select and engage targets without human intervention. In recent years, such weapons have been increasingly heralded as the next military technical revolution, and at the same time, an international campaign has rapidly taken shape which is calling for such weapons to be banned. In May 2014, the 117-member Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons convened an informal experts' meeting at the UN in Geneva, to consider the issue of "lethal autonomous weapon systems." Mark Gubrud reviewed the issue and the outcome of the meeting, and discussed prospects for further progress in this and other international forums. Frank Sauer acted as commentator.

BIO: Mark Gubrud is an experimental physicist, a former postdoctoral researcher in Princeton's Program on Science and Global Security, and a member of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control.

BIO: Dr. Frank Sauer is a Research Associate and Lecturer at Bundeswehr University Munich. His work is on international relations and international security, specifically nuclear issues, terrorism, cybersecurity and the growing military use of unmanned systems.

Return to top

David Wright | June 19th, 2014
“An Introduction to Ballistic Missiles”

ABSTRACT: This is a version of a presentation I gave as part of a training course on non-proliferation. While missiles are complicated from an engineering point of view, they are relatively simple from a physics point of view. My goal is to use the basic physics of missiles to explain what countries developing ballistic missiles must do to increase their range, payload, and accuracy, and what the main challenges are that they face along the way. I illustrate these issues with North Korea and Iran’s development programs.

Decisions that missile designers make are also strongly shaped by engineering issues, availability of materials, and other issues. We plan to follow this talk with a presentation in the fall that looks at the development programs of emerging missile states from an engineering point of view.

Download the slides.

BIO: David Wright is Co-Director and Senior Scientist in the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, where he has worked since 1992. Before that he was a Fellow in the Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard, a Senior Analyst at the Federation of American Scientists, and an analyst in the MIT Security Studies Program. He is a fellow of the American Physical Society (APS) and was a recipient of the 2001 APS Joseph A. Burton Forum Award. He received his Ph.D. in physics from Cornell University in 1983. One focus of his work for many years has been technical studies of North Korea’s ballistic missile program.

Return to top

Wu Riqiang | July 10th, 2014
“How to Reach a Sino-U.S. Common Understanding on Missile Defense”

ABSTRACT: The impact of U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD) on Sino-U.S. strategic stability depends on its effectiveness. At present, the effectiveness of U.S. BMD is limited, and Sino-U.S. strategic relation is stable. But the effectiveness could be improved via the combination of forward-deployed sensors and advanced interceptors, and China’s nuclear deterrence might be neutralized. Given the fact that China’s nuclear deterrence is based on first strike uncertainty, which means letting the other side be unconfident of a completely successful disarming strike, a possible solution is that the United States maintains the effectiveness of its BMD low, which could counter simple North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles, if any, without threatening China’s advanced strategic missiles, in return for China’s promise to not expand its nuclear arsenal. However, it seems to me that U.S. missile defense will probably be developed and deployed through a technology-driven approach, and U.S. will not accept any limitation on missile defense. I am pessimistic on reaching such a solution.

BIO: Wu Riqiang is Associate Professor at the School of International Studies, Renmin University of China. He received his Ph.D. in political science from Tsinghua University in 2012. Before that, he worked for six years at the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) as a missile designer, focusing on guidance and control systems. He visited MIT's Science, Technology and Global Security Working Group in 2009 fall, and was a 2010/2011 Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) at Stanford University. He holds a M.Sc. and B.E., both from Harbin Institute of Technology, China. His current work focuses on missile defense, strategic stability, and Sino-U.S. crisis management.

In 2011, he published “The Survivability of China’s Sea-Based Nuclear Weapons.”

Return to top

Adam Bernstein | September 25th, 2014
“WATCHMAN: A Water Cherenkov Monitor for Anti-Neutrinos”

ABSTRACT: WATCHMAN is a US-based collaboration whose purpose is to demonstrate the feasibility of using a gadolinium-doped water Cherenkov detector to detect antineutrinos emitted by distant nuclear reactors. The relatively high rate of emission of antineutrinos from reactors leaves open the prospect of discovering, or excluding, the existence of hidden reactors at hundreds of kilometer standoff. The goal of WATCHMAN is to demonstrate such detection by deploying a kiloton-scale water detector a few kilometers from an operating nuclear reactor, and measuring the antineutrino flux therefrom. While few-kilometer detection of reactors is in itself of limited utility for nonproliferation, a successful deployment will demonstrate and exercise the water-based technology on a large scale, and serve as a stepping-stone to the much larger – 100 kiloton to megaton mass (not yield) devices that would be required for true remote detection. Water-based technology is likely the only approach scalable to such large detector sizes. The same technology is being considered for future large scale physics experiments which focus on extragalactic supernovae detection, neutrino oscillation studies, neutrino mass hierarchy experiments and other fundamental studies. I will discuss the technical goals of the WATCHMAN demonstration, and the long-term nonproliferation and physics potential of these large scale detectors.

BIO: Dr. Bernstein is a staff physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and leads the Rare Event Detection Group in Physics Division. Since graduating from Columbia University in 1995 with a Ph.D. in physics, he has worked at LLNL and earlier at Sandia National Laboratories California Branch, on the development of advanced low noise, low cost, high efficiency and high resolution radiation detectors for use in fundamental and applied physics. He has pioneered and helped bring to maturity what has become a wide international effort to develop antineutrino detectors as a tool for monitoring nuclear reactors. In the area of applied physics, his main interested in the development of improved radiation detection techniques that facilitate and support global nuclear arms control, nonproliferation and disarmament. His interest in fundamental physics is primarily in the study of rare neutral particles, in particular the measurement of neutrino oscillations using reactor sources, and the search for direct interactions of dark matter in Earthly detectors. Prior to his career in the National Nuclear Laboratory complex, Bernstein consulted for Union of Concerned Scientists, and worked as a post-doctoral fellow at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute for International Studies in Monterey California, on the technical aspects of nuclear policy.

Return to top

Ali Ahmad | October 16th, 2014
“Balancing the Sword: A Conversion Proposal for Iran’s Arak Reactor”

ABSTRACT: The future of the IR-40 (Arak) reactor has been a central element of the negotiations between Iran and the countries of the P5+1—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States and Germany—because of concerns that the reactor could be used to make plutonium for weapons purposes. This webinar examines possible modifications of Iran's Arak reactor that would limit its plutonium production without compromising its usefulness for civilian purposes. The suggested changes would significantly reduce the reactor's production of plutonium from 7--9 kilograms to less than 1 kilogram per year. The analysis is relevant beyond the case of Iran's Arak reactor and may provide some future guidance for converting other heavy-water reactors that continue to operate today.

BIO: Dr. Ahmad is a post-doctoral research fellow in Nuclear Technology Policy at Princeton University's Program on Science and Global Security. His interests include nuclear technology and fuel cycle assessments, nuclear energy and climate change, nuclear security and nonproliferation and the introduction of nuclear power to new markets. Since joining Princeton University in October 2013, his work has focused on the prospects of nuclear energy in the Middle East and informing nuclear diplomacy with Iran. He obtained his first degree in Physics from The Lebanese University in Beirut in 2008 and his PhD in Nuclear Engineering from Cambridge University in 2013.

A short discussion of this work appeared in Arms Control Today in April, 2014.

Return to top

Bethany Goldblum | November 13, 2014
“Informational Sensing for Arms Control & Nonproliferation”

ABSTRACT: Sensing capabilities have led to major shifts in international agreements to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. New capabilities today in the form of informational sensing have set the stage for another major change in arms control verification and, in turn, nuclear nonproliferation. The growth of worldwide Internet connectivity and information sharing has made available previously impossible volumes and variety of information. This has been accompanied by the spread of social networks, and networked handheld computing with associated pervasive sensing capabilities; the emerging Internet of Things will amplify these trends. The result is a radical democratization of content as well as access to the tools to distribute it. Via open source and other data, network science approaches to informational sensing augment the nonproliferation physical sensing portfolio and represent a powerful opportunity for arms control verification and nuclear security solutions.

BIO: Dr. Goldblum is a member of the research faculty in the Department of Nuclear Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, and Founder and Director of the Nuclear Policy Working Group, an interdisciplinary team of undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral scholars focused on developing policy solutions to strengthen global nuclear security. She also serves as Director of Education for the Nuclear Science and Security Consortium, a multi-institution initiative established by the National Nuclear Security Administration to train the next generation of nuclear security experts. Since graduating from the University of California, Berkeley in 2007 with a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering, she has worked at UC Berkeley and earlier at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in fundamental and applied nuclear physics, nuclear-plasma interactions, scintillator characterization, and nuclear energy and weapons policy. Goldblum maintains active technical collaborations with the United States Department of Energy national laboratories, and is an affiliate at Lawrence Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore and Sandia National Laboratories.

Return to top

2013 lectures

George Lewis | January 17, 2013
“How Not to Build a National (or Global) Ballistic Missile Defense System”
[recording not available]

ABSTRACT: The United States withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2001 in order to begin deploying a nationwide ballistic missile defense system. The resulting system, known as the Ground-Based Midcourse (GMD) system, achieved an “initial operational capability” in 2004. Now, more than ten tears after deployment began, the core of the GMD system is nearly complete and the emphasis of the U.S. missile defense program has shifted to the development and deployment of regional defenses, such as the one being developed under President Obama’s European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA).  Ultimately, the objective is to merge the GMD and these regional defense systems into a single, integrated global Ballistic Missile Defense System.

However, despite numerous claims about its effectiveness, the GMD system is deeply flawed. It has interceptors that are both unreliable and highly expensive, a very sparse and poor test record, and most importantly, a neglected sensor infrastructure that lacks discrimination capabilities. These problems cannot be fixed short of deploying a largely new system. Although the EPAA is still early in its development, it is showing some of the same problems that led to the current situation with the GMD, particularly with regard to its sensor infrastructure. This talk will, from a somewhat technical perspective, describe the current state of the GMD system, attempt to explain how it got into this state, and assess the extent to which the GMD experience might have lessons for EPAA.

BIO: George Lewis has a PhD in applied physics from Cornell University. He is currently a Senior Research Associate in the Judith Reppy Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies at Cornell.

Return to top

Markus Schiller | February 14, 2013
North Korea’s Unha-3 Launcher: Insights and Consequences

ABSTRACT: This presentation discusses current insights into North Korea’s Unha-3 launch vehicle based on information gleaned from North Korea’s satellite launches combined with a technical understanding of rocket design.

BIO: Markus Schiller is a senior associate at Schmucker Technologie in Munich, a consulting company that specializes in security and defense issues related to rocket and space technology. This work has included projects for various national and international companies and institutions, including NATO and the European Union. From 2010-11, he worked as a Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at RAND in Santa Monica, where he developed a new methodology for defense related intelligence analysis and applied it to the North Korean missile program. Markus received a PhD in astronautics from the Technical University Munich in 2008.

Return to top

Matthew McKinzie | March 14, 2013
Reducing Alert Rates of Nuclear Weapons

ABSTRACT: Although the Cold War ended more than two decades ago, the United States, the Russian Federation, France and the United Kingdom altogether maintain approximately 2,000 nuclear warheads on high levels of alert, ready to launch within minutes. Keeping nuclear forces on alert incurs the risk of accidental or unauthorized launch, and reduces the decision time available for leadership in a crisis. Nevertheless reducing the operational readiness of nuclear forces has proved a difficult goal to achieve. A new report commissioned by the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) and published in late 2012 re-examines the de-alerting issue, analyzing policy, nuclear postures and scenarios of conflict, with a focus on a central question: Can de-alerted nuclear forces create a stable deterrent? Perhaps surprisingly, this study finds that the nuclear-weapon states have in fact taken some unilateral steps in the recent past to reduce nuclear alert levels. One of the report’s authors will present data and key findings from the study, and discuss how the de-alerting issue could evolve in the second term of U.S. President Barack Obama.

BIO: Matthew McKinzie, has a PhD in nuclear physics from the University of Pennsylvania. He is currently Director of the Nuclear Program and Senior Scientist, Lands and Wildlife Program, at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Return to top

Ted Postol | April 25, 2013
Analyzing Iron Dome

ABSTRACT: This presentation gives an initial analysis of the performance of Israel’s Iron Dome defense against short-range missiles.

BIO: Ted Postol is Professor of Science, Technology and National Security Policy in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at MIT. After receiving his PhD in nuclear engineering from MIT, he joined the staff of Argonne National Laboratory where he conducted physics research. Subsequently he went to the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment to study methods of basing the MX Missile, and later worked as a scientific adviser to the Chief of Naval Operations. After leaving the Pentagon, he helped build a program at Stanford University to train mid-career scientists to study developments in weapons technology of relevance to defense and arms control policy before coming to MIT in 1989.

Return to top

Mark Gubrud | May 16, 2013
Stopping Killer Robots: Compliance Measures for an Autonomous Weapons Convention"

ABSTRACT: Dramatic growth in the use of drones and robotic systems in warfare by the United States since 2001 has led to rapid global proliferation and a fast-paced robot arms race, with severe implications for nuclear arms control and other aspects of international and human security. While most of the systems in use today are remotely operated, there has been increasing interest in the use of artificial intelligence to make robotic systems more autonomous.

The most salient and profound issue is armed autonomous robotics, or systems that can autonomously determine the selection and engagement of targets. A strong moral argument posits that this is a red line which we should not cross. A growing global movement is demanding the prohibition of such "killer robots." However, in November the Pentagon announced a policy indicating the intent to develop, acquire and use autonomous weapon systems.

This talk will address the following questions:

  • What are autonomous weapon systems (AWS)?
  • Why is this an issue now?
  • What makes AWS dangerous?
  • What is the current status of AWS?
  • Why a ban on AWS, and on what basis?
  • What would an AWS convention look like?
  • What compliance measures are proposed?
  • What questions call for further research?

BIO: Mark Gubrud is a postdoctoral research associate at the Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University. Previously he was an adjunct professor of physics at the University of North Carolina. His PhD in experimental physics was completed in 2010 at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is a member of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control.

Return to top

Scott Kemp | June 13, 2013
“Revisiting the History of Centrifuge Proliferation”   
[recording not available]

ABSTRACT: Over the last three decades, uranium enrichment via the gas centrifuge has become the dominant mode of proliferation. There have been a total of nine proliferation attempts since 1975, and all but one pursued the gas centrifuge. Latent proliferators are also pursuing centrifuge technology: Japan, Brazil, South Africa, and perhaps soon South Korea are eager to get or maintain centrifuge capabilities that have neither economic nor energy-security justification.

Policymakers have tried to stem the tide by focusing on centrifuge technology transfer. Governments have worked to enhance export controls, improve options for interdiction, and shutdown individual proliferators like A.Q. Khan and associated black markets. These policies are rooted in a presumption that technology controls can be effective because, without help from outsiders, proliferators would find centrifuges too difficult to build. However, considering that centrifuges are now fifty-year-old technology, we will revisit this assumption with a view to establishing policies that reflect the ever changing nature of technology and its globalization.

BIO: Scott Kemp's research combines physics, engineering, and the history of science to draw more clearly the limits and policy options for achieving international security under technical constraints. His primary interest lie with policy issues relating to uranium enrichment. He has also worked on space arms control, cyber security, and methods for detecting covert nuclear-weapon programs.

Return to top

 Alex Glaser | September 19, 2013
 “A New Approach to Nuclear Warhead Verification Using a Zero-Knowledge Protocol

ABSTRACT: Warhead verification systems proposed to date fundamentally rely on the use of information barriers to prevent the release of sensitive information. Measurements with information barriers significantly increase the complexity of inspection systems, make their certification and authentication difficult, and may reduce the overall confidence in the verifiability of future arms-control agreements. 

We are pursuing a new approach to nuclear warhead verification that minimizes the role of information barriers from the outset and envisions instead an inspection system that avoids the measurement of sensitive information using a so-called zero-knowledge protocol. This is a protocol in which the data learned by one party (i.e., the inspector) allow him/her to verify that a statement is true (e.g., the inspected warhead is identical to an authenticated template), but does not reveal any additional information, e.g., does not leak any information that would help infer the design of the inspected warhead.

There is a wide literature on zero-knowledge proofs in the digital domain using cryptographic tools, and we draw on these ideas to achieve this in the physical domain. The proposed inspection system relies on active interrogation of a test object with 14-MeV neutrons, including both radiographic transmission measurements that are sensitive to warhead configuration and scattering/fission measurements that are particularly sensitive to material properties. The viability of the method is examined with MCNP Monte Carlo neutron transport calculations modeling the experimental setup, an investigation of different diversion scenarios, and a mathematical analysis of the detected data.

BIO: Alexander Glaser is Assistant Professor at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Princeton University. He is a participant in the University’s Program on Science and Global Security and works with the International Panel on Fissile Materials, which publishes the annual Global Fissile Material Report.  His PhD in Physics is from Darmstadt University of Technology, Germany. 

Return to top

Ed Lyman | October 10, 2013
Small Modular Reactors: Safety, Security, and Cost Concerns

ABSTRACT: Small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) are reactors that generate up to about a third the power of the typical commercial reactor. They have received positive attention in Congress and elsewhere as a possible way of introducing nuclear generating capacity in smaller and more affordable increments. Advocates assert that SMRs would cost less and be inherently safer than large reactors, so they could be located closer to densely populated areas, even replacing coal-fired power plants at existing sites.

Less expensive does not necessarily mean cost-effective, however. The safety of the proposed compact designs is unproven and the arguments in favor of lower overall costs depend on convincing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to relax existing safety regulations.

Reactor owners can be tempted to lower costs by cutting corners. We need research that will show how to lower the cost of nuclear reactor systems while increasing their levels of safety and security. Safety and security improvements are critical if nuclear power is to be a viable energy source for the future.

Click here for Ed’s report on SMRs.

BIO: Ed has been at UCS since 2003. Before joining UCS, he was president of the Nuclear Control Institute. From 1992 to 1995, he was a postdoctoral research associate at Princeton University’s Center for Energy and Environmental Studies (now the Science and Global Security Program). He earned a PhD degree in physics from Cornell University in 1992.

Return to top

Lisbeth Gronlund | November 21, 2013
The Future of the US Nuclear Weapons Complex

ABSTRACT: This talk will discuss the future of U.S. nuclear weapons and the nuclear weapons complex. The complex is a set of eight sites for nuclear weapons research and development, production, and testing. UCS recently released a report Making Sound Security Choices: The Future of the US Nuclear Weapons Complex, which takes a broad look at the complex and assesses what is going well and what needs improving, what there is too much and too little of, and how to make its work consistent with the U.S. commitment to further reducing its nuclear arsenal.

Under the administration’s current plan, the U.S. will replace its existing nuclear weapons with a suite of new designs over the next 25 years. While the U.S. needs to extend the life of its arsenal, it could refurbish its existing weapons instead of building new types. Building new nuclear weapons would entail both political and technical downsides.

The U.S. is planning to build several new facilities to produce weapon components, but some of these should be cancelled or downsized.  Over the past 20 years the US has invested in both experimental and computational facilities to increase its fundamental understanding of nuclear weapons. The utility of these facilities will depend on the extent to which the US modifies existing nuclear designs.  The U.S. also has a program to monitor warhead aging, which has been undervalued and underfunded.

Since the end of the cold war, some observers have warned that the complex would not be able to hire and retain qualified technical personnel, but this concern has not been borne out. The complex stores many metric tons of weapons materials, and these need to be stored and disposed of in a way that minimizes security risks. Current U.S. plans fall short. Finally, the U.S. should spend more resources to develop ways to verify further arms reduction agreements.

BIO: Lisbeth has been at UCS since 1992. Before that, she was a postdoctoral fellow at the MIT Defense and Arms Control Studies Program and an SSRC-MacArthur Foundation Fellow in International Peace and Security at the Center for International Security Studies at the University of Maryland. She earned a PhD degree in physics from Cornell University in 1989.

Return to top

Ivanka Barzashka & Ivan Oelrich | December 17, 2013
The Iranian Nuclear Deal: Technical Context and Prospects

BIOS: Ivanka Barzashka is an affiliate of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University and a research associate at the Centre for Science and Security Studies at King's College London. Previously, Barzashka managed the Federation of American Scientists' interdisciplinary assessment of Iran's nuclear capability. She is based in Stanford, California.

Ivan Oelrich is a defense analyst who has held senior research positions at the Institute for Defense Analyses, Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, and the Federation of American Scientists. Oelrich received his Ph.D. in chemistry from Princeton University. He was a pre-doctoral Research Associate at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Return to top

Last Revised: April 8, 2015

We Need Your Support
to Make Change Happen

We can increase global security and take U.S. nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert—but not without you. Your generous support helps develop science-based solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.