Skip navigation
Nuclear Safeguards Education Portal

What is Nuclear Security Culture?

"Good security is 20 percent equipment and 80 percent culture."

--General Eugene Habiger, 
former Director of Security and Emergency Operations, U.S. Department of Energy and former
commander of U.S. strategic forces (Source:  Bunn & Sagan, 31)

Let's start with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) definition of nuclear security culture:

Nuclear Security Culture: the assembly of characteristics, attitudes and behavior of individuals, organizations and institutions which serve as a means to support and enhance nuclear security (Source: IAEA Nuclear Security Series, No.7 3).

Creating a nuclear security culture involves influencing the beliefs, behaviors, and values of individuals in an organization in a way that supports nuclear security. Furthermore, a good security culture requires commitment at an organizational level, leadership from managers and regulators, and the engagement of all personnel.   

The IAEA acknowledges that a "culture is hard to either impose or cultivate, but it can be fostered through role models, training, positive reinforcement, and systematized processes."

In the report The Human Dimension of Security for Radioactive Sources: From Awareness to Culture, prepared by the Center for International Trade and Security at the University of Georgia and the Indonesian National Nuclear Energy Agency (BATAN), the following general properties of nuclear security culture are cited:

  • Cultures are a product of social learning. Therefore, they cannot be shifted without determined effort from national and facility leaders. Orientation sessions that provide an outlet for explanation and discussion can help leaders modify the organizational culture, provided they back up these sessions with daily reinforcement and leadership-by-example.
  • There is always a security culture in an organization. The questions are whether the culture is what management needs it to be, and whether it is improving, decaying, or remaining static.
  • It is often easier to change patterns of thinking in an organization than to change patterns of behavior. New managers can come in brimming with bold new ideas, for example, yet fail to get people to change their old behaviors.
  • Leaders are the most influential in changing security culture as they are able to intervene at all levels. With sustained effort, and by deploying incentives and disincentives at their disposal, they can mold new patterns of thinking, establish new patterns of behavior, and even change the physical environment.
  • Cultures reduce anxiety for their members by establishing shared patterns of thinking, speaking, and acting. Consequently, cultural change will always increase anxiety within the organization until the new patterns are learned. Leaders must make the anxiety of learning a new culture less than the anxiety of staying in the old culture.

(Source: CITS & BATAN 24) 

These properties are largely adapted from Schein's model of organizational culture and are all important things to note before attempting to understand or change the security culture within an organization. 


Page 2 / 43