- Armament and disarmament
- Conflict, peace and security
- Peace and development
Plutonium and highly enriched uranium (HEU) are the basic materials used in nuclear weapons. Plutonium also plays an important role in the generation of nuclear electricity. Knowing how much plutonium and HEU exists, where, in which form and under which controls is vital for international security and nuclear commerce. This book is a thorough revision of the World Inventory of Plutonium and Highly Enriched Uranium, 1992. It provides a rigorous and comprehensive assessment of the amounts of plutonium and HEU in military and civilian programmes, in nuclear and non-nuclear weapon states, and in countries seeking to acquire nuclear weapons. The capabilities that exist for producing these materials throughout the world are examined in depth. The book concludes with a thorough examination of policies on the control and disposition of fissile materials and makes a number of important new proposals. Containing much new information and analysis, this book is indispensable to all those concerned with the great contemporary issues in international nuclear relations: arms reductions in the nuclear weapon states, nuclear proliferation, nuclear smuggling, the roles of plutonium and enriched uranium in the nuclear fuel-cycle, and the disposition of surplus weapon material.
Findings and Recommendations
Plutonium and Highly Enriched Uranium 1996: World Inventories, Capabilities and Policies finds that around 3000 tonnes of plutonium and HEU have been produced over the past 50 years, of which 2000 tonnes (1750 tonnes of HEU and 250 tonnes of plutonium) have been produced for military purposes. The authors estimate that less than 400 tonnes are now required to sustain nuclear arsenals in the five nuclear weapon states (NWS: the USA, Russia, the UK, France and China), so that 1600 tonnes can be counted as excess.
The management and control of plutonium and HEU is essential to reduce the potential for nuclear war or nuclear terrorism. This book examines the progress made worldwide in efforts to reduce the risk posed by these materials. To overcome the continued problems, policy initiatives are proposed in the areas of military stocks of plutonium and HEU, nuclear non-proliferation and civil plutonium separation and re-use.
Military stocks of plutonium and HEU in the nuclear weapon states
Cold war superpowers remain reluctant to place excess plutonium and HEU under international controls: Close to 2000 tonnes of plutonium and HEU have been produced for military purposes in the NWS and the threshold states. Efforts to bring excess materials under more effective controls are facing growing political obstruction. The USA, Russia and the other acknowledged NWS are resisting calls by other governments and large segments of their own publics to declare plutonium and HEU stocks as excess to military needs and to place these materials under international control.
Plutonium and HEU production for weapons has been halted in the NWS, but a verified agreement banning weapons material production remains elusive: Over the past several years, progress has been made to halt the production of plutonium and HEU for nuclear weapons by the five acknowledged NWS. The USA, Russia, the UK and France have officially announced a halt to the production of plutonium and HEU for weapons. Only China has not officially said it has halted production of plutonium and HEU for weapons, although unofficial reports indicate that it has stopped. Russia has also announced it will convert its last three operating plutonium production reactors so that they no longer produce weapon-grade plutonium.
Stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons
Argentina, Brazil and South Africa have backed away from nuclear weapons: Efforts to curb proliferation of nuclear weapons have achieved several successes. South Africa has revealed information about its nuclear stockpile and now joins the other non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS), which have renounced nuclear weapons and accepted the comprehensive safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Argentina and Brazil have created a regional safeguards system that also opens up their formerly secret programmes to the IAEA regime.
Israel, India and Pakistan continue to hold out against international controls: The authors' central estimates are that at the end of 1995 Israel possessed 460 kg of plutonium, India 330 kg of plutonium and Pakistan 210 kg of HEU. These stocks are outside international controls and are believed to be part of their nuclear weapon programmes. India's and Israel's stocks are projected to grow. Although Pakistan is believed to have 'frozen' the production of HEU there are indications that it may start to produce unsafeguarded plutonium. Secrecy surrounding the Khushab reactor currently under construction suggests Pakistan may have plans to separate plutonium there.
Iraq: Iraq is the only country in the world prohibited from possessing separated plutonium and HEU. Although its pre-Gulf War facilities have been destroyed the country retains extensive expertise and ambition to reconstitute its nuclear weapon programme. The book provides a comprehensive assessment of the pre-Gulf War Iraqi nuclear weapon programme.
North Korea's plutonium inventory remains unknown: North Korea's nuclear programme is 'frozen' under the 1994 Agreed Framework, and progress is being made on building two light water reactors in the North. The final outcome of this process will depend on North Korea allowing the IAEA to investigate thoroughly its historical plutonium production programme and determine if the country has hidden a stock of weapon-grade plutonium.
Glut of civil plutonium stored: At the end of 1995, about 140 tonnes of separated civil plutonium were in store in Europe and Asia. This surplus is expected to grow to about 250 tonnes over the next decade. Surpluses are growing at these unprecedented rates because plutonium separation in reprocessing plants is not being matched by plutonium disposition through recycling as fuel in civil power reactors. France, the UK and Russia hold the largest inventories of civil plutonium, but an increasing amount of this material will be owned by NNWS in Europe and by Japan.
Reprocessing policies are held in place by industrial inertia and by political opposition to spent fuel storage and disposal strategies: Most utilities would prefer to store their spent fuel, pending its 'direct' disposal in a geological repository. The transition away from reprocessing is hindered by binding contracts with reprocessors and the uncertainty faced by utilities in pursuing long-term spent fuel storage policies.