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Olli Heinonen

Olli Heinonen

Senior Associate, Managing the Atom Project




Olli Heinonen is a Senior Associate with the Managing the Atom Project at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. From 2010-2016 he was a Belfer Center Senior Fellow. He serves currently as a Senior Advisor on Science and Non-proliferation at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Washington D.C., and was the 2016 S.Rajaratnam Professor for Security Studies at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

His research includes: nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, verification of treaty compliance, enhancement of the verification work of international organizations, and transfer and control of peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

Before joining the Belfer Center in September 2010, Olli Heinonen served 27 years at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. Heinonen was the Deputy Director General of the IAEA, and head of its Department of Safeguards. Prior to that, he was Director at the Agency’s various Operational Divisions, and as inspector including at the IAEA’s overseas office in Tokyo, Japan.

Heinonen led teams of international investigators to examine nuclear programs of concern around the world and inspected nuclear facilities in South Africa, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Syria, Libya and elsewhere, seeking to ensure that nuclear materials were not diverted for military purposes. He also spearheaded efforts to implement an analytical culture to guide and complement traditional verification activities. He led the Agency’s efforts to identify and dismantle clandestine nuclear proliferation networks.

Heinonen is the author of several articles, chapters of books, books, in publications ranging from the IAEA and nuclear non-proliferation issues, to regional nuclear developments. His writings and interviews have been published in various newspapers and magazines including: Foreign Policy, The Wall Street Journal, the Guardian, the Bulleting of the Atomic Scientists, Arms Control Today, Der Spiegel, Le Monde, the Helsingin Sanomat, the New York Times, the Mehr news, the Teheran Times, Die Stern, Haaretz, the New Statesman, the Washington Post, the BBC, and the Time. His policy briefings have been published by the Belfer Center, the Atlantic Council, the Nautilus Institute, the Henry Jackson Society, the Institute for Science and International Security, the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies of the Nanyang Technical University, and the Carnegie Endowment. He has authored chapters in books on the IAEA verification experiences and on synergetic effects that nuclear safety, security, and safeguards have on one another contributing to the efficiency and effectiveness of the overall nuclear order.

He has testified on nuclear non-proliferation issues in the congressional hearings for both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives.

Olli Heinonen studied radiochemistry and completed his PhD dissertation in nuclear material analysis at the University of Helsinki.



By Date



IAEA Imagebank

November 28, 2016

"Concerns about a Reduction of Transparency in IAEA Reporting on Iran’s Nuclear Program"

Op-Ed, Foundation for Defense of Democracies

By Olli Heinonen, Senior Associate, Managing the Atom Project

While the U.S. administration maintains that Iran has thus far complied with the nuclear deal, the recent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report indicates that for the second time, Iran has exceeded the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action’s (JCPOA) limit for its inventory of heavy water.



IAEA Imagebank

November 2, 2016

"Regional Norms for Cooperation on Nuclear Safety and Radiological Emergency in South East Asia"


By Olli Heinonen, Senior Associate, Managing the Atom Project

RSIS Distinguished Public Lecture by Dr Olli Heinonen, S. Rajaratnam Professor of Strategic Studies, RSIS, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore,
on 2 November 2016.




October 28, 2016

"The Trilateral Initiative and Beyond"


By Olli Heinonen, Senior Associate, Managing the Atom Project

Article VI of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) calls for “..... a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control”. Complete elimination of nuclear weapons by a state requires verification of the dismantlement of nuclear weapons and related manufacturing facilities, and to provide assurances that all fissile materials from weapons, materials designated for weapons use, its scrap and other wastes, are accounted for, and any remaining nuclear activities be introduced for civilian use.



U.S. Dept. of State

October 25, 2016

"Strengthening Regional Cooperation on Nuclear Safety in the Asia-Pacific"


By Olli Heinonen, Senior Associate, Managing the Atom Project

Dr Olli Heinonen, S. Rajaratnam Professor of Strategic Studies, on 25 October 2016, in a RSIS seminar at the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.



U.S. Dept. of State

Sunday, September 18, 2016

"Don’t Rely on Iran’s Good Intentions"

Op-Ed, The Cipher Brief

By Olli Heinonen, Senior Associate, Managing the Atom Project

The international community cannot rely on Iran’s good intentions. It must build robust long-term assurances into all nuclear contracts that any separation of plutonium from spent fuel requires prior consent from the technology provider. Moreover, if necessary, the provider can request that the items in question be returned from the Islamic Republic.



Roman Harak

Friday, September 16, 2016

"North Korea’s 5th Nuclear Test – What now?"

Policy Brief, Foundation for Defense of Democracies

By Olli Heinonen, Senior Associate, Managing the Atom Project

North Korea just heralded the 68th anniversary of its founding by conducting its fifth nuclear test. The initial seismic recordings were larger than previously recorded activity. This, coupled with other indicators, suggests that Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons capability is accelerating.




September 8, 2016

"Lessons learned from dismantlement of South Africa's biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons programs"

Journal Article, Nonproliferation Review

By Olli Heinonen, Senior Associate, Managing the Atom Project

South Africa had active nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons programs during the 1970s and 1980s. South Africa dismantled its nuclear weapon program prior to its 1991 accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Similarly, it terminated its chemical weapons program prior to its 1995 ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention. Only the dismantlement of Pretoria's nuclear weapons program was subjected to international verification—albeit ex post facto—following a 1993 decision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) General Conference to verify the correctness and completeness of South Africa's declarations under its NPT safeguards agreement. During the 1980s, South Africa also developed and purportedly used biological weapons, violating its obligations under the 1972 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction, which it had ratified in 1975. This article draws lessons from the verification of the dismantlement of these programs and makes recommendations for future verification work to confirm the elimination of weapons of mass destruction capabilities.




July 29, 2016

"Iran’s Breakout Time Drops Below Administration Benchmarks"

Policy Brief

By Olli Heinonen, Senior Associate, Managing the Atom Project

Iran plans to manufacture and install additional advanced centrifuges at its Natanz facility in about 10 years, substantially boosting the country’s uranium-enrichment capability, according to a confidential document leaked last week by the Associated Press. According to the plan – which Iran reportedly shared with the IAEA six months ago – Tehran’s breakout time will shrink to a few weeks or less.

Furthermore, days after those revelations, Iranian officials said that they are prepared to swiftly reinstall dismantled centrifuges should their counterparts not fulfill their commitments under the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA. The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, even said that his country could restore its pre-JCPOA enrichment capacity within 45 days.



U.S. Dept. of State

July 27, 2016

"JCPOA implementation will face ‘some turbulences’ in coming months, Heinonen claims"


By Olli Heinonen, Senior Associate, Managing the Atom Project

“Implementation has started well, but I see some turbulences during the months to come,” Heinonen tells the Tehran Times. Though both Russia and the U.S. have criticized UN chief Ban Ki-moon for his report of the implementation of the Security Council Resolution 2231, the former IAEA official defends the drafting of the report by saying “since the resolution calls Iran not to conduct tests with missiles designed for carrying nuclear weapons, the Secretary General apparently felt it necessary to express his views on the tests conducted by Iran during recent months.”




June 27, 2016

"Legitimizing Iran’s Nuclear Program with a Broader Conclusion"

Op-Ed, Foundation for Defense of Democracies

By Olli Heinonen, Senior Associate, Managing the Atom Project

Restrictions on Iran’s uranium enrichment will remain in place for a few years after Transition Day, but Tehran can use the Broader Conclusion to advance the narrative that it should be treated as a country in good standing with its nuclear nonproliferation obligations.

Events Calendar

We host a busy schedule of events throughout the fall, winter and spring. Past guests include: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, former Vice President Al Gore, and former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev.