Exploring the Human Dimension of Nuclear Security: The History, Theory and Practice of Security Culture

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Over the past two decades, considerable attention has been devoted to the human dimension of nuclear security. This is part of a more holistic approach to securing nuclear facilities, grounded in the concept of culture, that moves beyond the traditional focus of physical protection measures. But what explains this shift and what does it entail? This article begins by demonstrating, through a series of real-life case studies, the potential for human factors to undermine nuclear security systems. It then considers the rise and consolidation of ‘culture’ as a concept used to better understand and organise international efforts to strengthen nuclear security. Building on this, nuclear security culture is explored in practice, drawing on a review of relevant initiatives as well as empirical research conducted by the authors at several UK nuclear sites. A number of likely challenges for developing an effective nuclear security culture at the operational level are discussed, as is the value of culture-focused guidance developed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in identifying and addressing potential problems. The article concludes that while nuclear security culture has been widely promoted at the international level, there exists considerable scope for new initiatives to further strengthen engagement at the working level of industry.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages31
JournalThe Nonproliferation Review
Issue number5/6
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 23 Jul 2020


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