OVER the weekend, the UN’s nuclear watchdog announced that Iran had complied with the terms of a deal—agreed last July—to disable the country’s nuclear-weapons programme.
In recognition, the majority of international sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy for the past decade were lifted. America’s secretary of state John Kerry hailed it as “the first day of a safer world” and a prisoner swap between the two countries was announced. Critics in the US Congress counter that the terms were too soft and reward brinksmanship. Under the July deal, Iran decommissioned reactors that could be used to produce weapons-grade plutonium and reduced its holdings of low-enriched uranium, which can be further enriched to weapons-grade material.
Yet preventing a country’s production of nuclear materials that can be used in weapons is just one counter-proliferation measure. Another is to protect against current stockpiles falling into the wrong hands, or better yet, to ensure countries have nothing to steal by eliminating their stocks altogether. This has been the purpose of the international nuclear security summits that have been held every two years since 2010, the last of which will be held in Washington, DC, in March 2016. On these measures, Iran does not fare well. Of the 24 countries that had nuclear stockpiles of at least 1kg in 2015, Iran is second-worst in the world at securing these from theft, according to an index from the Nuclear Threat Initiativeand the Economist Intelligence Unit, our sister company.
Globally, progress is being made, but it is slowing. A dozen countries have eliminated their stockpiles, but only Uzbekistan has done so since the 2014 index. Several countries have increased their stockpiles in that time, including India, Japan, the Netherlands, North Korea, Pakistan, and Britain. Almost 2,000 tonnes of weapons-usable nuclear materials remain stored around the world. There is also a growing risk of sabotage by a number of methods which includes cyber attacks. Around 45 countries have some form of nuclear facilities, and would be vulnerable to a radiological leak on the same scale as the Fukushima disaster. The most vulnerable nations are, again, Iran and North Korea. Of the countries with nuclear facilities, developing countries with new nuclear programmes such Egypt and Algeria are least secure. Iran and other nations still have much to do to make the world a safer place.