Proliferation Risks of Civilian Nuclear Power Programs

By Paul I. Bernstein and Nima Gerami WMD Proceedings

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The risks of nuclear proliferation—the further spread of nuclear weapons and weapons-usable material, technology, and expertise—derive in part from the technical characteristics of the nuclear fuel cycle and the national and international management of fuel cycle activities. Civilian nuclear power plants themselves are not considered a high proliferation risk because it is difficult to make weapons-usable material from reactor fuel. The principal proliferation risk is that states can use the civilian nuclear fuel cycle as a source for the material, technology, and expertise needed to develop nuclear weapons. A state’s intent to develop a nuclear weapons capability can be concealed if its activities otherwise appear compliant with its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Creating more effective barriers to the diversion of civilian nuclear programs to military purposes—as North Korea has done and as Iran appears to be doing—is central to current efforts to strengthen the global nuclear nonproliferation regime. READ MORE >>