Jeffrey LewisProliferation Assessments

What if I could lower your electricity bill by about 45 cents a month in exchange for helping Syria and one or two other countries acquire a nuclear weapons capability?  How about it?

What, not so excited about that?

Ok, lets just say it increases the chance of the Syrian bomb by 10 percent over a decade.  You’ll save $54 dollars over the same period.  No?

Ok, what if it only increased the chance of Bashar’s bomb by 1 percent over the same period?

Whether your think I am being fair or not, there is a proliferation cost associated with the development of novel enrichment technologies, as AQ Khan demonstrated by his turn as the Johnny Appleseed of centrifugal enrichment.

Francis Slakey (aka Slake) has submitted a petition on behalf of the American Physical Society to the NRC requesting “that the NRC amend its regulations regarding the domestic licensing of special  nuclear material to include proliferation assessments as part of the  licensing process.”

It is now open for public comment.  You can read Slake’s explanation here, which is the source of the 45 cent estimate.


  1. FSB (History)

    Perversely, your Faustian bargain is exactly what is encapsulated in the NPT. The NPT actually *encourages* the proliferation of dual-use nuclear knowledge and hardware, so long as those are not used for weapons.

    The name of the game is dual-use. And recall the peaceful nuclear explosion.

    If the West does not like the NPT bargain, we should start to discuss a new treaty.

    That said, Francis Slakey’s suggestion is sensible.

  2. Ael (History)

    I am not particularly worried about a Syrian bomb.
    I would willingly pocket the extra cash and not worry about it.

  3. Anon (History)

    I am worried about a Brazilian bomb because Brazilian officials openly say they want one — but I forgot we need only worry about muslim proliferators.

    • Anon (History)

      Here is the evidence — from one of FSB’s old posts:

      Brazillian government officials have boasted about a military nuclear program in the recent past:

      “If the government agrees, we need to have the ability in the future to develop a nuclear weapon,” said Gen. Jose Benedito de Barros Moreira, one of Brazil’s few four-star generals and a former head of the country’s War College. Barros Moreira, who is presently a senior official in Brazil’s Ministry of Defense, in charge of formulating the country’s military strategy, compared the weapon to a “lock” needed to safeguard Brazil’s resources.

      Their VP has said essentially the same:

      “BRASILIA, Brazil — Brazil’s vice president says in an interview published Friday that his country should develop nuclear weapons. Other officials stressed that his comments were not government policy.

      Jose Alencar, who also served as defense minister from 2004 to 2006, said in an interview with journalists from several Brazilian news media that his country does not have a program to develop nuclear weapons, but should: “We have to advance on that.”

      “The nuclear weapon, used as an instrument of deterrence, is of great importance for a country that has 15,000 kilometers of border to the west and a territorial sea” where oil reserves have been found, Alencar said.

      Alencar aide Adriano Silva confirmed the comments published by newspapers including O Globo and O Estado de Sao Paulo. But he said they were personal opinions and not a position of the government.”


      see also –,1518,693336,00.html

      Mark has written on the Resende Fuel Processing Complex so maybe he can tell us more.

      Some more info:

      Note the way David Albright downplays the Brazillian issue — based on politics, not impartial technical measures. But then he goes on to say:

      But former U.N. inspector Albright said he worked with Goncalves at the Brazilian Physics Society on a project to show that the Brazilian centrifuges could be used to produce highly enriched uranium, even if that wasn’t their intended use.

      ”Centrifuges are very flexible,” he said. ”Reconfiguring the cascades or recycling the enriched uranium multiple times can allow for the production of weapons-grade uranium.”

      I wonder why there are not more press releases from ISIS re. Brazil?

      Where are the zealous reports by Sanger and Broad on Brazil?

      In my view, that a fuss has not been rasped about Brazil only indicates the lack of even-handedness of which the NAM countries (rightly) complain. Brazil is not perceived as a threat to the West/UNSC so there is little pressure put upon the IAEA to investigate it as zealously as the IAEA is pressured to investigate Iran.

      If anything, judging by the statements of their officials one ought to be more concerned with Brazil than with Iran, although in neither case do I think are the nations actually diverting nuclear material for improper uses.

  4. FSB (History)

    Bad Anon, bad!

    shhhh…Brazil is our buddy (for now, like Egypt) — it’s OK if they want nukes.

  5. Elaine (History)

    Shameless plug for Global Security Newswire’s article last month about the pending petition at NRC! Here’s the link:

    Worth noting, I think, that under the APS petition, it would be the nuclear industry itself taking the first crack at a nonproliferation assessment of its own technology, each time a license application is submitted.

  6. Ben (History)

    Speaking of centrifuges, this seems to slipped past some radars recently,

    Mark Hibbs would probably be in the know about these things, does anyone have more info on the PRC’s indigenous enrichment program?

  7. Makeyev (History)

    How much money would I save if we got rid of Israels actual nuclear capability??

    • MWG (History)

      SILEX “exists” at the level of proof of concept, but not at the level of demonstrated feasibility at production scale. If that demonstration takes place, it will provide an additional known technical pathway for potential proliferators to pursue, and an additional set of technical risks for nonproliferation and counterproliferation measures to address.

  8. George William Herbert (History)

    I am somewhat confused by the particulars of this policy request.

    SILEX exists already. It is not clear that building a plant significantly increases the actual risk of the technology diffusing, though I am willing to listen to arguments to justify that assertion…

    • Jeffrey (History)

      I actually think licensing for large-scale commercial use adds a unique form of risk.

      Part of what AQ Khan did that was special was to walk off with engineering knowledge. But the other thing he did, which the Iraqis had less success replicating, was to walk off with contacts throughout the network of URENCO suppliers. (Think of Khan’s contribution as organizational, rather than scientific or technological.)

      Or think about the automotive industry, and the massive industries built up to supply parts. It usually is — or at least was for URENCO — the same for commercial enrichment. A large network of suppliers, which provided fertile ground for proliferation networks.

      So, it makes sense to me, when licensing, to at least assess the risk of proliferation. Maybe laser enrichment is different; maybe not. But I really think we ought to at least consider proliferation as an externality that warrants consideration in the licensing phase.

    • MWG (History)

      SILEX “exists” at the level of proof of concept, but not at the level of demonstrated feasibility at production scale. If that demonstration takes place, it will provide an additional known technical pathway for potential proliferators to pursue, and an additional set of technical risks for nonproliferation and counterproliferation measures to address.

      [NOTE to moderator: this was meant as a reply to this comment, not the previous one.]

    • George William Herbert (History)

      Those responses make sense. It would seem more important to put an adequate security barrier around the enrichment company technical know-how than to ban the technology being brought to full scale development, though.

      Materials production technology proliferation is outside my core competency, so I am not going to assert any special depth of knowledge here.