Building Blockchain Tools to Improve Nuclear Safeguards

Stimson is building prototype distributed ledger technology tools for improving the management of nuclear material accountancy

Distributed ledger technology offers a novel technological solution for data verification and has the potential to build a “trust machine” among parties normally suspicious of one another. The Stimson Nuclear Safeguards program is spearheading applied research to identify ways this technology can benefit WMD nonproliferation and international security – a first in the field.

From the Program Director

Nuclear Safeguards Program Director Cindy Vestergaard

Impact

In 2019 and 2020, the Stimson Center, the University of New South Wales (UNSW)and STUK, Finland’s nuclear regulator, will develop a prototype system that uses distributed ledger technology for a national system of nuclear material accounting. This first-of-its-kind project will test the feasibility of blockchain technology for tracking nuclear material chain of custody and may pave the way for its application in chemical, radiological, and biological materials as well.

DLT has the potential to dramatically increase efficiencies in safeguards information management and inspection effort while increasing security and transparency.

21st Century Tech for a 21st Century Threat

DLT is leading-edge technology that can dramatically improve trust, security, and transparency. While technology with these features could tremendously benefit the WMD nonproliferation field, there has not been systematic, rigorous study investigating the specific applications of blockchain for various nonproliferation and international security challenges.

Problems of Provenance

Many of the challenges in nuclear material accounting are fundamentally problems of provenance: Can you verifiably trace the information back to its source so that you know its trustworthy? Distributed ledger technology may provide a method of ensuring data can be trusted.

Tens of Thousands of Pages

National regulators, facility operators and international organizations like the IAEA have seen a steady increase in reporting requirements under the Nonproliferation Treaty. New reporting requirements usually mean paper – tens of thousands of pages. And while some effort has been made to digitize the process, DLT has the potential to create greater efficiencies in reporting and verification.

Will it Work?

At Stimson we are excited about the potential for blockchain to improve international security in a number of ways – not just nuclear materials data. But our research into DLT is objective — this might not turn out to be the right choice. That is why we’re testing and prototyping: to see whether this technology is appropriate for creating greater efficiencies and tracking of materials.

This project is part of the Nuclear Safeguards program

The Nuclear Safeguards program examines the impact of evolving international, regional and bilateral safeguards obligations on states and facility operators.

To support this work, contact Sarah Savoy.

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