A Fresh Examination of the Proliferation Dangers of Light Water Reactors

October 22, 2004

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear

Author: 

Victor Gilinsky, Marvin Miller, and Harmon Hubbards

Publication: 

Nonproliferation Policy Education Center

This report details how fresh and spent LWR fuel can be used to accelerate a nation’s illicit weapons program significantly. In the case of a state that can enrich uranium (either covertly or commercially), fresh lightly enriched reactor fuel rods could be seized and the uranium oxide pellets they contain quickly crushed and fluoridated. This lightly enriched uranium feed material, in turn, could enable a would-be bomb maker to produce a significant number of weapons with one-fifth the level of effort than what would otherwise be required to enrich the natural uranium to weapons grade. As for spent LWR fuel, the report details how about a year after an LWR of the size Iran has was brought on line, as much as 60 Nagasaki bombs’ worth of near-weapons grade material could be seized and the first bomb made in a matter of weeks. The report also details how the reliability of the bombs made of this material, moreover, is similar to that of devices made of pure weapons grade plutonium.

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