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Nuclear Safeguards Education Portal

Another Case Study

Another case study involving a failure in nuclear security culture comes from a visit Matthew Bunn made to a Russian nuclear institute in the mid-2000s.


Personnel were required to pass through two portal monitors, one after the other, in order to access a vault where a large amount of weapons-grade material was stored.  One of these portal monitors was American and the other was Russian.  The official leading the tour told them that they had two portal monitors because the building next door made medical isotopes, and, one day per week when the chemical separations were done to obtain the isotopes, the background radiation went up so high that it caused the American-made portal monitor to alarm.  On that particular day, they would turn off the American-made portal monitor and turn on the Russian-made one, which was less sensitive.  No additional measures were in place to account for the change in procedure on those days. Despite the fact that all the staff knew about this procedure, which left open the possibility that an insider could plan to carry out an attack on that particular day of the week, the staff at the facility did not view this as a cause for concern. In this case, the lapse in good nuclear security culture rendered the security system protections in place largely irrelevant. (Source: Bunn & Sagan 11)

In both of the real-life examples we have covered, complacency among the staff led to failure in the security system.  In both cases, the human factor actually overrode the measures in place.  So, who or what is ultimately responsible for this failure? Next we will look at the roles and responsibilities for nuclear security culture and learn that the entire nuclear enterprise as a whole is responsible in some way for spreading and fostering good nuclear security culture.

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