Managed Access Exercises 2008-2010

Exploring NNWS inspections at NWS facilities

What it was

Between 2008 and 2010 the UKNI developed and ran three exercises with the aim of exploring the challenges associated with deploying inspectors into sensitive nuclear facilities. The exercises in 2008 and 2009 took place primarily at the Institute for Energy technology (Institutt for Energiteknikk, or IFE) in Norway, with the UK playing the part of a fictional NNWS while Norway played the role of a fictional NWS. These exercises were broad in scope, covering disassembly of a mock weapon. The first exercise constituted a ‘familiarisation’ visit where inspectors first visited the disassembly facilities to gain a better understanding of the disassembly process and establish monitoring requirements. For the second exercise, the inspectors returned to the facilities to put into practice the monitoring plans they had developed – in order to monitor a mock weapon as it passed through the disassembly process.

In 2010 the exercise was focused particularly on security-related challenges and took place at the Burghfield site of the Atomic Weapons Establishment in the UK. The inspection team – which this time was Norwegian, playing as the fictional NNWS while the UK played as the fictional NWS – was tasked with conducting a familiarisation visit similar to that conducted in the 2008 exercise, albeit smaller in scope, but there was a particular focus on the effect of security controls. These controls were put in place to understand the limits of verification techniques when heavy restrictions are in place.

Why we did it

In nuclear weapon-related verification activities, there is a tension between the need to protect sensitive information and the need collect enough information to demonstrate that the agreed arms control measures have been taken. This tension runs through all elements of the interaction between inspectors trying to verify the agreement and the host country that owns the affected weapons.

The exercises were developed so that UKNI researchers could gain a better understanding of how, where, when and why this tension manifests during a verification process. It is necessary to understand this relationship in order to overcome the tension by developing solutions that satisfy both the host country’s need to protect sensitive information and the inspecting party’s need to gather sufficient information.

Lessons learnt

The exercises were very successful in that they highlighted where challenges lay and laid the ground work for the future direction of other UKNI projects, including the development of the Information Barrier and the development of the ‘Trust and Confidence’ exercises that ran between 2013 and 2015.

Exercise events indicated that objects could in theory be tracked through a disassembly process, but that no progress had been made towards confirming that those objects were indeed weapons. Much more work was also needed to ensure that technologies could be trusted by both parties to do the job they were required to do.

Though comprehensive at the facility level, the background information for the exercises lacked sufficient depth at a more strategic level. This caused some difficulty during exercise play, with participants required to make inferences or assumptions which in a real verification situation would most likely be pre-agreed, and which complicated post-hoc analysis. In particular some of the tension between participants – which the final exercise in particular was designed to expose – may have been exacerbated by the increased need to negotiate details on the ground that would almost certainly be pre-agreed in practice.

This suggests that future arms control exercises should devote effort to ensuring that the background scenario is well thought through and communicated to players in sufficient depth to allow meaningful play. There are additional challenges associated with operating in a real nuclear weapons facility – not least the fact that ‘in play’ staff have real ‘out of play’ roles, and that the unintended consequence may well be that legitimate exercise play is held up by ‘out of play’ concerns.

Furthermore, the provision of limited strategic context meant that the exercise could not rely on evidence provided in preceding verification activities, or during negotiation, or expected later in the broader verification process. This put additional pressure on the verification measures employed during the processes covered in the exercise. It is therefore possible that the exercises, if considered in isolation, may overstate some of the challenges associated with verification in the round. Nevertheless, the exercises strongly pointed towards the need for well-developed and mutually-agreed procedures for undertaking verification tasks. This necessity indicates that significant information sharing and planning must take place between the parties, in a sufficiently cooperative manner, to address the concerns of each side before inspectors visit a secure facility.

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