Nuclear Darkness

Emerging nuclear weapon states

Drs. Toon, Robock, et al, have pointed out that there are now 32 non-nuclear weapon states that possess the raw materials necessary to manufacture nuclear weapons (see below, Table 2).  The raw materials exist mainly in their civilian nuclear reactor programs.

The most difficult step in manufacturing a nuclear weapon is obtaining the fissionable material.  This can be accomplished by operating a nuclear reactor and building a plutonium (Pu) reprocessing center where the Pu created in the reactor is separated from spent fuel rods.  All the necessary technology, equipment and expertise required to accomplish this are available through nominally regulated international markets.

Today there are some 439 nuclear power reactors operating in 30 countries plus Taiwan.  About 35 power reactors are currently being constructed in 11 countries, notably China, South Korea, Japan and Russia, but including Kazakhstan, Bulgaria, Romania, and Slovakia (see "Plans for New Reactors Worldwide" ).

An average size commercial nuclear reactor produces about 500 pounds of plutonium a year (see No Longer Business As Usual At Duke Nuclear Power Reactors ).  Since it takes about 20 pounds to produce a Hiroshima-size nuclear weapon, each commerical reactor thus produces enough plutonium to make 25 Hiroshima-size bombs per year.

Iran is now building a nuclear reactor with the help of Russia.  Egypt and Turkey, who have flirted with nuclear weapons programs in the past, have announced ambitious plans for the construction of new power reactors. Saudi Arabia and the five other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates) at the end of 2006 "commissioned a joint study on the use of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes”. In 2007, the Arab League "called on the Arab states to expand the use of peaceful nuclear technology in all domains serving continuous development."

Algeria and Russia signed an agreement on nuclear development in January 2007; Jordan has announced that it, too, wants nuclear power. Morocco wants assistance from the atomic energy agency to acquire nuclear technology and in March, 2007, it sponsored an international conference on Physics and Technology of Nuclear Reactors.

We are fast approaching a world in which nuclear weapons will be made by not 5 or 9 nations, but by dozens of nations, many of whom have intense rivalries and recent histories of bitter warfare. There is no military solution to this problem.

Attempting to maintain a two-tiered system of nuclear “haves” and “have-nots” through enforcement of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty will not work much longer, because many of the non-nuclear weapon states have come to believe this is a form of “nuclear apartheid”. Despite large reductions in global nuclear arsenals since the 1980s, the continued modernization of nuclear weapon systems and dependence on nuclear arsenals by the nuclear weapon states undercuts their arguments that they are acting “in good faith” to completely eliminate nuclear weapons.

The NPT will soon fall apart if the nuclear weapon states fail to recognize this fact and agree to dismantle their nuclear arsenals under a binding and realistic timetable. The only real way to prevent nuclear proliferation and eventual nuclear conflict is to secure existing stocks of fissile material (and prevent the production of more), and to abolish nuclear weaponry.

country Year abandoned nuclear weapons program HEU enrichment or Pu separation facilities: Possible number of Pu weapons, 10 kg Pu per weapon Possible number of HEU weapons, 25 kg per weapon
China active HEU , PU 910 880
France active HEU , PU 23610 1320–1372
Russia active HEU , PU 27120 43520-44120
United Kingdom active HEU , PU 9630–10240 936
United States active HEU , PU 50250 28200
De Facto Nuclear Weapons States
India active HEU , PU 1390–1490
Israel active HEU (?), PU 56 1
Pakistan active HEU , PU 84 44
North Korea active HEU (?), PU 4 1
Non-Nuclear Weapons States
Argentina >1990 HEU , PU 1100
Armenia 140
Australia < NPTb HEU (?) 14
Belarus Inherited 1990s 10–15
Belgium PU 2350–2450 28–30
Brazil >1990 HEU , PU 210
Bulgaria 850
Canada < NPTb PU 13500 54
Czech Republic 620 3–5
Egypt < NPTb
Finland 1100
Germany HEU , PU 9300–9600 56–108
Hungary 750 6–10
Iran active HEU (?)
Iraq 1990s
Italy 650 4–8
Japan HEU , PU 15160–15360 80
Kazakhstan Inherited 1990s 300 424–438
Latvia 1
Libya 2003 1
Lithuania 1000
Mexico 240
Netherlands HEU 300–390 29–32
Poland 20
Romania >1970 PU 240 1
Slovakia 840
Slovenia 270
SouthAfrica >1970, created weapons HEU 580 24–30
SouthKorea >1970 HEU , PU 4400
Spain >1970 2690
Sweden < NPTb 4180
Switzerland >1970 1750–2000
Taiwan >1970 PU 2200
Ukraine Inherited , 1990s 4100 6–10
Uzbekistan 4
Yugoslavia >1970

Table 2. The dates when various countries halted their nuclear weapons programs; whether they have or once had HEU enrichment facilities, or Pu separation facilities; and the numbers of nuclear weapons that might be constructed from Pu or HEU in their possession at the end of 2003 (Albright et al., 1997). For most countries, the Pu or HEU is in a civilian nuclear reactor programa.

The possible number of nuclear devices in Table 2 that could be constructed from existing inventories of Pu and HEU in various countries ranges from one to tens of thousands. We assumed in constructing Table 2, that 10 kg of Pu is needed for each warhead, but we did not distinguish Pu that has been separated from fuel rods from that which has not been separated, and we did not distinguish Pu which is enriched in the favored isotope, 239Pu. Weapons constructed by the U.S. and Russia are thought to contain about 3-4 kg of Pu; it has also been suggested that Indian weapons average 5 kg of Pu. For HEU, 25 kg per device was assumed to derive Table 2. HEU exists in various states of enrichment of 235U, and we do not specifically distinguish weapons-grade material. However, once uranium is enriched to the level of HEU, most of the work needed to achieve weapons grade has already been done, and HEU itself can be used in weapons.There are 8 current states with nuclear weapons, 1 (North Korea) constructing weapons and one (Iran) believed to be actively seeking such devices. Another 32 states possess fissionable material from which weapons could be produced.

a Including irradiated and non-irradiated plutonium. Including HEU at all enrichment levels. Including material owned by the country but not in its territory. We omitted 237Np and Am which can also be used in weapons.
b <NPT indicates the program was abandoned at or before signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.