From Nuclear Energy to the Bomb: The Proliferation Potential of New Nuclear Energy Programs

Nuclear Energy Futures Paper #6

September 28, 2009

This paper explores the connection between otherwise peaceful nuclear energy programs and nuclear weapons with the objective of clarifying their relationship. Specific attention is paid to the technical aspects of proliferation, particularly regarding scientific knowledge and expertise, nuclear material, technology and infrastructure.

Main findings are:
• Nuclear energy and weapons are inextricably linked by the scientific principles that underscore both, but beyond this basic understanding the intricacies of the technical relationship between the two are complex.

• A once-through nuclear program provides a basic foundation in nuclear science and reactor engineering
for a nuclear weapons program, but does not provide knowledge of sensitive fuel cycle technology or bomb
design and assembly.

• A peaceful nuclear energy program does, however, provide a state with much of the expertise, personnel,
infrastructure and camouflage it would need to begin work on a weapons program should it chose to do so.

• Acquiring a peaceful nuclear energy infrastructure does enhance a state’s capacity to develop nuclear
weapons, but capacity is only one consideration and of secondary importance to other factors that drive state
motivations for the bomb.

Part of Series

Nuclear Energy Futures

CIGI's Nuclear Energy Futures Papers present research commissioned by the Nuclear Energy Futures Project, which is examining the scope of the purported nuclear energy revival over the coming two decades and its implications for global governance. The papers are written by experts in nuclear energy or nuclear global governance.

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