Obtaining a Nuclear Weapon

A blog post in two parts.

I. Detecting the production of weapon-grade materials Gas centrifuges are currently the most common method of enriching Uranium. However, nations such as Iraq and the Soviet Union have tried other enrichment methods (such as EMIS or thermal diffusion).

Question: How much effort should the IAEA spend trying to detect non-centrifuge enrichment methods? In other words, given the relative complications of EMIS and thermal diffusion, do you think any nations would still try these methods?

II. Preventing weapon-grade material from falling into the wrong hands.
Preventing countries from enriching Uranium-238 is a key component in the limiting of nuclear proliferation. However, as mentioned in next week’s readings, one can circumvent complicated process of enriching Uranium/plutonium by purchasing or stealing materials– a plan of action that a terrorist group might take. Ensuring that a nation’s U-235 is kept in safe hands is just as important as preventing that nation from enriching Uranium in the first place. Nations have engaged in belligerent rhetoric against their neighbors, but nuclear war has been avoided (at times, narrowly avoided) through careful political maneuvering. A terrorist group, however, would be unlikely to bother with diplomacy or the threat of mutual annihilation. Therefore, it is important to identify which nations are most likely to have their nuclear arsenals stolen (or, alternatively, to sell Uranium/plutonium to terrorists). It is important to note: just because a nation has a less-secure nuclear arsenal does NOT mean that terrorists will definitely get their hands on that arsenal.

Question: Zimmerman and Lewis provide the example of a corrupt Sudanese official who sold fake nuclear materials to al-Qaeda. Which other nations do you think are at “risk” of having nuclear materials stolen or selling nuclear materials to terrorists? Is this risk high or low? — David