Nuclear Security Initiative


The global nuclear menace persists, although it hardly resembles the epic stare-down of a generation ago, which pitted one superpower heavyweight against another. While the United States and Russia continue to hold the world’s largest stockpiles of nuclear weapons, the nuclear club has grown to include more than eight countries – some of whose unstable political environments dramatically increase the possibility that terrorists could acquire nuclear technology.

Compounding the problem is the danger of regulating nuclear energy and disposing spent fuel, both underscored by the 2011 catastrophe at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant.

In the face of these geopolitical tensions the Hewlett Foundation began a short term initiative in 2008 to explore ways to help reduce the risk of nuclear disaster. The Hewlett Foundation’s strategy focuses on finding ways to reduce nuclear arsenals, and recognizes that the United States and emerging power countries must work together to manage nuclear materials and technologies to drive the global campaign for stronger controls.

Hewlett grantees helped lead the effort to inform U.S. policymakers about the implications of a second generation of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START. In 2013, President Obama proposed lowering the total number of nuclear warheads in the U.S. and Russia to levels not seen since 1954. The campaign to build public and political support for the treaty was led by several of our grantees, including the Ploughshares Fund and the National Security Network, and it included  key endorsements from  several influential retired military officials.  

Another success of the initiative was the 2011 Nuclear Power Plant Exporters’ Principles of Conduct, a set of voluntary guidelines that codifies best practices for the export of nuclear reactors, and reduces the risk of accident for civilian-managed power plants. One of our core grantees, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, facilitated the development of the language for these best practices, and successfully encouraged virtually every major nuclear reactor exporter to sign the pact.

These have been important developments, and we believe that our Nuclear Security Initiative has played a role in advancing the goal of reducing the risk of a nuclear event.

The Hewlett Foundation concluded its Nuclear Security Initiative in 2014 and is no longer accepting grant applications.

As part of the wind-down of the Nuclear Security Initiative the Hewlett Foundation commissioned a summative evaluation from research firm ORS Impact. The results can be found in their full report. Consulting Program Officer David Shorr also wrote a blog post describing some of these insights.