Experts Discuss Perspectives on Nuclear Centers of Excellence in Asia

Experts Discuss Perspectives on Nuclear Centers of Excellence in Asia

South Korean President Park Geun-hye speaks to the plenary group at 2014 Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague (source: Netherlands Ministry of Defence/Sjoerd Hilckmann)

South Korean President Park Geun-hye speaks to the plenary group at 2014 Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague (source: Netherlands Ministry of Defence/Sjoerd Hilckmann)

On July 18, 2014, the Center for Strategic and International Studies held a talk on Asian nuclear Centers of Excellence (CoEs) where experts and officials gathered to review the accomplishments made by Japan, China, and the Republic of Korea in nuclear security matters and to offer their perspectives on future developments.

At the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, DC launched by President Barack Obama to mitigate the threat posed by loose nuclear materials around the world, three Asian countries pledged to create these CoEs. These training programs aim to develop expertise in nuclear security to support national nuclear energy programs. Japan and the Republic of Korea respectively established their own centers in 2010 and 2014; China will open their facility in 2015.

The speakers acknowledged that the initiatives of Japan, Korea, and China greatly contributed to the international national security architecture. Naoko Noro, Research Fellow at the Integrated Support Center for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Nuclear Security of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, outlined the diversity of the subjects taught within the Japanese CoE ranging from nuclear materials protection on site to nuclear security culture to safeguards courses. Furthermore, these efforts go beyond just a national framework: the three countries established an Asia Regional Network to facilitate cooperation between centers and strengthen the quality and effectiveness of their programs. According to Noro, regional CoEs currently exchange information on training activities. They also share best practices and resources through personnel exchanges and other tools. It turned out that sharing what has ultimately not worked, however, can prove valuable as well: Japan offered painful lessons it learned from the Fukushima accident with its regional partners.

Cooperation on nuclear security is crucial in a region where the stakes are particularly high.  Dr. Kwan-Kyoo Choe, Director General of the International Nuclear Nonproliferation and Security Academy at the Institute of Nuclear Nonproliferation and Control in South Korea, highlighted that 23 percent of the world’s nuclear power plants are located in Northeast Asia. With the demand in energy rising at a rapid pace on the continent, Japan, South Korea, and China and others in the region seek to expand or build their nuclear programs in order to overcome vulnerabilities due to an overreliance on foreign energy supplies. The flip side of this nuclear energy trend, however, is Asia must take the lead when it comes to protection of fissile materials. Choe underlined the Republic of Korea’s unique involvement in international nuclear issues over the past decade, implementing the Additional Protocol of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2004 and the Integrated Safeguards in 2008 as well as hosting the second Nuclear Security Summit in 2012.

For all the remarkable progress that Japan, Korea, and China have made on nuclear security so far, the speakers indicated there is room for greater cooperation between the regional CoEs. Choe, for instance, wants further collaboration through regular meetings with the IAEA as well as a cooperation framework at the governmental level. Speaking on the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit held in The Hague, Michelle Cann, Senior Budget and Policy Analyst at the Partnership for Global Security, observed a significant shift from secrecy to greater information sharing reflected in the Strengthening Nuclear Security Implementation “gift basket” signed by 31 countries interested in acquiring their own CoEs along with paragraph 20 of the Hague communiqué. She recommended simulation exercises to determine the nature and extent of information CoEs can share without compromising national security. Cann identified other areas for improvement, such as the establishment of a regional certification system through standardized education courses for professionals. According to Cann, this would resolve concerns about insider threats to nuclear materials.

Eventually, the network could absorb new regional CoEs and promote synergy on nuclear security across Asia. Vuong Huu Tan, Director General of the Vietnam Agency for Radiation and Nuclear Safety, evoked the challenges ahead as Vietnam joined the 2014 Strengthening Nuclear Security Implementation gift basket: the absence of necessary national infrastructure for training and education and the low attraction of the workforce to the nuclear field. However, Tan expects many benefits from future regional coordination with other CoEs, such as a better use of resources and avoiding duplication of efforts. Similarly, Hendriyanto Haditjahyono, Director of the Center for Education and Training of the National Nuclear Energy Agency (BATAN), hopes to advance nuclear security in Indonesia through the development of standards for personnel competency in nuclear security as well as joint training with local and regional participants.

The CoE network implemented by Japan, China, and the Republic of Korea represents important progress in nuclear security matters in Asia, showing the way for the development of similar regional networks elsewhere. Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins, Coordinator for Threat Reduction Programs at the U.S. Department of State and Chair of the IAEA International Network for Nuclear Security Training and Support Centres (NSSC), insisted that CoEs could take the lead in shaping international nuclear security after the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit and assured that the NSSC Network will provide continued support to collaboration efforts.

The Rising Power Initiative’s Nuclear Debates in Asia project will continue to explore the development of nuclear Centers of Excellence in Asia. Follow the project on Twitter at @Westmyer or visit the project website at

By Samia Basille, Research Intern at the Rising Powers Initiative