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Nuclear Security Glossary


The Chinese Scientists Group on Arms Control (CSGAC) of the Chinese People’s Association for Peace and Disarmament, and the Committee on International Security and Arms Control (CISAC) of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences have been meeting for almost 20 years to discuss nuclear arms control, nuclear nonproliferation, nuclear energy, and regional security issues, with the goal of reducing the possibility of nuclear weapons use and reducing nuclear proliferation in the world at large.

Throughout these rich exchanges, our discussions have benefited from the contribution of bilingual participants and the services of interpreters. Despite long-standing personal relationships and strongly shared interests between CSGAC and CISAC, it was often evident that beyond the never-simple translation of one language into the other, there was also the difficulty of differing interpretations of terms.

With substantial and growing international efforts in nonproliferation of nuclear weapons, counter-proliferation and the prevention of nuclear terrorism, and with the expansion of the use of nuclear power and the role of international inspections, it is important that participants whose respective native languages are Chinese and English agree on the meanings given to relevant terms in the two languages. In cases where they cannot agree, then it is important that they understand the usage in the other language, and be aware that a simple statement of the term may have alternative or ambiguous meanings.

This glossary of approximately 1000 terms is intended to reduce the likelihood of misunderstanding, and to remove barriers to progress in exchanges and diplomatic, cooperative, or other activities where unambiguous understanding is essential. For many of the terms, this is just a matter of translation because, in our review, we could readily agree on an appropriate translation of the term volunteered by one side or the other. Consequently, there was little likelihood of misunderstanding, and so the majority of the terms in this glossary are simply paired with the corresponding term in the other language.

Another category of terms required definition. It was clear that although there might be a single meaning in one language, there were several possible options that dealt with matters that were quite distinct in the other, For these terms, we have arrived at what we believe to be a common definition, which, in turn, we present in both languages.

A third category of terms is one in which there are different meanings even within a single language. That is, the same set of words is used in different contexts to describe different objects, actions or concepts. For these terms, although we have in many cases agreed on a single translation of the term, we felt it necessary to provide varying interpretations that might be encountered for example, in military or diplomatic circles.

Where possible, we have taken our definitions from reputable preexisting sources in authoritative texts or preexisting glossary compilations. We have given preference to international documents, then to official governmental documents, and then to organizations or references of some standing such as the National Academy of Sciences, the Arms Control and Disarmament Handbook, the National Defense Science and Technology Dictionary-Nuclear Energy and similar sources.

Because terminology continues to evolve, we expect that an expanded version of the physical book may be produced at some future point. It is our intent to update the glossary routinely, as the scope of interaction increases and clarifications come to light. The committees welcome comments on the glossary at: and at: Please include “Glossary” in the email subject line.

We have also created an online database that contains the glossary information in a more “user friendly” format. Users can search by the eight glossary topics or by keyword and print and/or export the results of their search. After the search users can alphabetically sort the terms displayed in English, Pinyin, and by category by using the small red up and down arrows. The references are accessible via “hot linked” reference number within the entries in the database. Access the English and Chinese versions in an online database as well as a PDF (via the National Academies Press) of the glossary.