What is the Nuclear Threat Intiative?

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  • Written By: Michael Anissimov
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  • Last Modified Date: 21 November 2019
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The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) is a public charity founded in 2001 by Ted Turner, a media mogul, and Sam Nunn, who was a United States Senator from Georgia for 24 years. The Nuclear Threat Initiative is based in Washington, DC, with Sam Nunn serving as the current CEO. The organization is notable for operating with full transparency. According the organization's web site, NTI's main goals are "to prevent terrorists from getting a nuclear bomb and to strengthen global health and security." The NTI operates on a budget of roughly $50 million USD per year.

One of the Nuclear Threat Initiative's most significant accomplishments so far was producing Last Best Chance a 45-minute film that illustrates the danger of nuclear terrorism. In the film, terrorists steal weapons-grade uranium from poorly-guarded research reactors, fashion a nuclear bomb, and successfully smuggle it across the American border. The film ends before the bomb is actually detonated, leaving the effects of the bomb to the imagination of the viewer. The implication is that the detonation of an atomic bomb in a major American city would result in hundreds of thousands of deaths and displace millions.


Another of the Nuclear Threat Initiative's accomplishments was Project Vinca, an effort to remove over two bombs’ worth of highly enriched uranium stored in a civilian research reactor with insufficient security in Vinca, Serbia. The reclaimed uranium was either downblended (unenriched) or moved to more secure storage facilities in Russia. The NTI argues that there are dozens of poorly-guarded civilian research reactors worldwide, each of which may have enough highly enriched uranium to build several atomic bombs.

A third accomplishment of the NTI was strengthening the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) programs to secure vulnerable nuclear material by improving security at select sites. As a result of the NTI's contributions, the size of the IAEA's physical security program was effectively doubled. The grant also kickstarted an avalanche of additional contributions from the United States and other nations, netting the IAEA over $25 million USD in supplemental funds.

The NTI's most important contributions may be behind the scenes in Washington, convincing American politicians to take the risk of nuclear terrorism more seriously. US intelligence officials have stressed the explicit desire of groups such as Al Qaeda to acquire a nuclear weapon and use it to attack the United States. A single nuclear weapon with a payload equivalent to a Hiroshima bomb would be able to destroy the Capitol Building, the White House, the National Mall, and many important national monuments with a single explosion.


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