Fissile Materials: Balancing the Books

The International Panel on Fissile Materials has just released the Global Fissile Material Report 2010: Balancing the Books. The report reviews the official declarations of fissile material production and stocks by the United States and the United Kingdom and provides revised estimates of the past production and current holdings of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium for six nuclear weapon states that have not declared their holdings. This is the first comprehensive public update of this information since the groundbreaking work done by Albright, Berkhout, and Walker in the 1990s.

The report also identifies windows of opportunity for progress towards verified nuclear disarmament. Today, fissile material production facilities are being shut down and prepared for decommissioning and dismantlement in a number of weapon states. The report finds that countries should not dismantle key components of their production reactors until international bilateral and multilateral nuclear-archaeology initiatives can be set up, under IAEA supervision, and with participation from non-weapon states, to develop and implement on-site sampling methods and benchmark computer simulations that can be used to verify the fissile material production history at each facility. The weapon states might begin by each identifying one production reactor as a potential test bed for international studies to clarify the capabilities and limits of nuclear archaeology.