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A civil/military nuclear program was pursued by Argentina from the 1950s. After a military junta seized power in 1976, and motivated in part by Brazil’s 1975 deal with West Germany to obtain extensive nuclear fuel cycle facilities, Argentina’s nuclear program expanded and the military objective became more pronounced. By the late 1960s, Argentina had developed the infrastructure to support a nuclear power plant, and in 1968 it purchased a 320 MW(e) power reactor from the West German firm Siemens. One military option considered from the late 1960s to the early 1980s included a plan to build a 70 MW(th) research reactor which could produce unsafeguarded plutonium. Another option was diversion of plutonium from safeguarded power reactors.
In the late 1960s, Argentina, possibly with assistance from an Italian firm, built a laboratory scale reprocessing facility at Ezeiza. This facility was closed in 1973 after intermittent operation and the extraction of less than one kilogram of plutonium. In 1978, the Argentine nuclear agency CNEA began construction of a second reprocessing facility at Ezeiza that had a design capacity of 10-20 kilograms of plutonium per year. The stated intention was to reprocess spent fuel from power reactors and to use plutonium in the same reactors or in breeder reactors which were (ostensibly) under consideration. Due to economic constraints, and political pressure from the US, construction on the second Ezeiza reprocessing plant was halted in 1990.
In 1962, the federal Cabinet approved an increase in the staff of the AAEC from 950 to 1050 because, in the words of the Minister of National Development William Spooner, “a body of nuclear scientists and engineer skilled in nuclear energy represents a positive asset which would be available at any time if the government decided to develop a nuclear defence potential.”
In 1969, Australia signed a secret nuclear cooperation agreement with France. The Sydney Morning Herald (June 18, 1969) reported that the agreement covered cooperation in the field of fast breeder power reactors (which produce more plutonium than they consume). A split table critical facility built in 1972 at Lucas Heights was connected to the interest in fast breeder reactors and was possibly connected to the interest in weapons production. The facility was supplied by France.
In 1968, government officials and AAEC scientists studied and reported on the costs of a nuclear weapons program. They outlined two possible programs: a power reactor program capable of producing enough weapon grade plutonium for 30 fission weapons annually; and a uranium enrichment program capable of producing enough uranium-235 for the initiators of at least 10 thermonuclear weapons per year.
In 1969, federal Cabinet approved a plan to build a power reactor at Jervis Bay on the south coast of New South Wales. There is a wealth of evidence – some of it contained in Cabinet documents – revealing that the Jervis Bay project was motivated, in part, by a desire to bring Australia closer to a weapons capability. Then Prime Minister John Gorton later acknowledged: “We were interested in this thing [a planned nuclear power reactor at Jervis Bay] because it could provide electricity to everybody and it could, if you decided later on, it could make an atomic bomb.” After Gorton was replaced as leader of the Liberal Party by William McMahon in 1971, the Jervis Bay project was reassessed and deferred and the Labor government, elected in 1972, did nothing to revive the Jervis Bay project.
In 1975 a highly controversial agreement was concluded under which Germany would have supplied Brazil with a full closed fuel cycle, consisting of several nuclear power plants, an enrichment facility, and a reprocessing plant for civilian purposes. Brazil’s interest in nuclear weapons was an open secret. While the deal was later substantially scaled back under US pressure, Brazil secretly engaged in an unsafeguarded parallel military program, with the army being responsible for the plutonium path and the navy pursuing uranium enrichment. Both used personnel trained in the civilian program and are believed to have used technology supplied for the civilian program in unsafeguarded enrichment and reprocessing facilities. Brazil’s military nuclear program was ended in parallel with Argentina’s. Brazil joined the NPT in the 1990s. (Otfried Nassauer, 2005, “Nuclear Energy and Proliferation”, .)
An excerpt from a Nuclear Threat Initiative analysis (www.nti.org/e_research/profiles/Egypt/index.html)
James Walsh, who has perhaps written the most in-depth study of Egypt’s nuclear program to date, concludes: “…it is fair to say that Egypt’s most intensive efforts to acquire nuclear weapons (or the capability to produce them) occurred during this phase — that is, just after the disclosure of the Dimona reactor, but before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.” … Indeed, during this period, the Egyptian government dramatically increased its investment and research into nuclear technologies. It attempted quite persistently, for example, to acquire a sizeable power reactor—and was notably insistent that it be a natural uranium fueled heavy water-moderated reactor rather than a light water reactor.
In the declared nuclear weapons states – the US, Russia, China, France and the UK – there are varying degrees of overlap between civil and military programs, e.g. routine transfer of personnel, and presumably there are more than a few links in Russia and China where the civil and military nuclear sectors remain fairly closely connected.
Of the five declared weapons states, France was the only one where a civil nuclear program played any significant role in the initial development of nuclear weapons. Matthew Bunn writes: “France’s initially civilian nuclear program provided the base of expertise (and some key advocates) for its later dedicated military program (which had substantial interconnections with the civilian program, with both under the Commissariat de L’Energie Atomique, and material for the weapons program sometimes produced in power reactors).” (Matthew Bunn, 2001, “Civilian Nuclear Energy and Nuclear Weapons Programs: The Record”, .)
India’s nuclear research and power programs laid the foundation for its 1974 nuclear test explosion. The test explosion used plutonium produced in the 40 MW(th) research reactor known as Cirus (Canada-India-Reactor-United-States), which was supplied by Canada (construction began in 1955, first criticality was achieved in 1960).
India has a number of unsafeguarded power reactors. These are thought to have supplied only a small fraction of the plutonium for India’s weapons program to date, with the majority produced by the Cirus and Dhruva research reactors. However, at least as much plutonium is contained in the spent fuel of unsafeguarded power reactors as has been produced by Cirus and Dhruva.
India’s stated interest in using plutonium for power production, and the development of facilities such as a fast breeder test reactor and a mixed uranium-plutonium oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication plant, have provided further civil cover for India’s military plutonium program. The ostensibly civil plutonium program has also been used to justify the development of reprocessing facilities.
India’s refusal to allow safeguards on eight of of 22 (existing or under-construction) power reactors under the US-India agreement strongly indicates that power reactors play a direct role in India’s nuclear weapons program.
A civil research reactor program, plus plans to develop nuclear power, facilitated a covert weapons development program in Iraq from the early 1970s to the early 1990s which employed thousands of people spread across numerous sites.
While Iraq’s nuclear research program provided much cover for the weapons program, stated interest in developing nuclear power was also significant. According to Khidhir Hamza, a senior nuclear scientist involved in Iraq’s weapons program: “Acquiring nuclear technology within the IAEA safeguards system was the first step in establishing the infrastructure necessary to develop nuclear weapons. In 1973, we decided to acquire a 40-megawatt research reactor, a fuel manufacturing plant, and nuclear fuel reprocessing facilities, all under cover of acquiring the expertise needed to eventually build and operate nuclear power plants and produce and recycle nuclear fuel. Our hidden agenda was to clandestinely develop the expertise and infrastructure needed to produce weapon-grade plutonium. … Under cover of safeguarded civil nuclear programs, Iraq managed to purchase the basic components of plutonium production, with full training included, despite the risk that the technology could be replicated or misused.”
Professed interest in developing fusion technology was also useful, as discussed by Hamza: “Iraq took full advantage of the IAEA’s recommendation in the mid 1980s to start a plasma physics program for “peaceful” fusion research. We thought that buying a plasma focus device … would provide an excellent cover for buying and learning about fast electronics technology, which could be used to trigger atomic bombs.”
North Korea’s covert weapons development program proceeded under cover of a planned nuclear power program in the 1980s following the acquisition of research reactors in the 1960s and 1970s. The plutonium used in North Korea’s 2006 weapons tests was produced in a so-called ‘Experimental Power Reactor’.
While there have been ongoing efforts to develop plutonium production and separation capabilities, the emphasis of Pakistan’s covert weapons program has been on uranium enrichment. In 1978 France broke off an agreement to supply an enrichment plant, but a large scale gas centrifuge enrichment plant was built at Kahuta nonetheless, using stolen European (Urenco) designs.
In the 1970s, Pakistan planned to use power reactor/s to produce plutonium for weapons. However in 1978 France pulled out of an agreement to build a reprocessing plant because of the weapons implications. Efforts to complete the plant without further French assistance struck insurmountable obstacles.
Pakistan’s power reactors, which are subject to IAEA safeguards, have had little or no direct connection to the weapons program in terms of plutonium production. However one possible source of heavy water for the Khushab reactor is diversion of heavy water supplied by China for the Kanupp power reactor.
The purpose of Urenco’s enrichment technology was to enrich uranium for power reactors, thus providing an indirect power-weapons link in the development of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons capability.
South Africa initially had a civilian nuclear program to which a military one was later added. Much of the technology was indigenous with substantial secret outside help, especially from West Germany. HEU-enrichment in South Africa was based on a German technology (Becker nozzle process) officially supplied for the civilian nuclear energy program. The South African nuclear program resulted in a uranium weapon. (Otfried Nassauer, 2005, “Nuclear Energy and Proliferation”, .)
South Korea began a secret nuclear weapon program when it began to construct its first nuclear power plants in the early 1970s. When the United States threatened to withdraw its military support for South Korea, Seoul agreed to end the program and to join the NPT in 1975. Since the 1980s, South Korea has launched several attempts to initiate a reprocessing program but has backed off when pressured by the United States. (Otfried Nassauer, 2005, “Nuclear Energy and Proliferation”, .)
Matthew Bunn writes:
“Sweden’s nuclear program was originally an integrated program for both nuclear energy and nuclear weapons, based on plutonium production in heavy-water reactors. R&D on nuclear weapons was carried out in the 1950s, while the public civilian program pursued development of the heavy-water reactors. Delays in the heavy-water reactors, combined with a U.S. offer of safeguarded LWR technology and fuel, led Sweden’s industry to drop its support for the heavy-water option, leaving continued development with no civilian rationale. By the mid-1960s, the weapons program had been dropped, because of lack of domestic political support. (Matthew Bunn, 2001, “Civilian Nuclear Energy and Nuclear Weapons Programs: The Record”, .)
Johansson writes: “The possibility of developing a nuclear weapons potential under the cover of a civilian nuclear power program was illustrated by Sweden between the early 1950s and 1968. Indeed, this case shows that the development and use of nuclear power and the nuclear weapons proliferation problem are inextricably linked.” (Johansson, Thomas B., 1986, “Sweden’s abortive nuclear weapons project”, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol.42(3), pp.31-34.)
Comments from the NTI website:
Why did Damascus suddenly embark on a nuclear program in the 1970s? On the one hand, Syria’s rapidly increasing domestic energy demand during that decade provided it with incentives to consider nuclear energy. But Damascus may also have been pursuing a hedging strategy, as it could no longer afford total military dependence on the Soviet Union. …
… In 2003, Syria signed a $2 billion nuclear deal with Russia that included a nuclear power plant and a nuclear seawater desalination facility. The announcement of the deal was originally placed on the Russian Foreign Ministry website and received a considerable amount of negative attention. The Foreign Ministry spokesman quickly refuted claims that any such discussion had taken place.
A push towards a nuclear weapons capability began in 1974. The covert weapons program was pursued despite Yugoslavia’s formal accession to the NPT in 1970. It was decided to pursue weapons under the cover of an expanded nuclear power program. Two parallel nuclear programs were pursued – one military, one civil. The program dedicated to weapons included projects into the nuclear explosive components for weapons including a neutron source to initiate the chain reaction, computer modelling, and exploratory studies of aspects of underground nuclear testing. The “peaceful” program involved 11 projects. Its major activities were clearly related to the weapons program, including the design of a plutonium production reactor (referred to as an experimental research reactor), uranium metal production, development of an expanded plutonium reprocessing capability, design and construction of a zero power fast breeder reactor, and heavy water production. The nuclear weapons program was effectively terminated in 1987 for reasons which remain unclear. The extent of the progress made between 1974-87 also remains unclear.
Albright, David, and Mark Hibbs, September 1992, “India’s silent bomb”, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol.48, No.07, pp.27-31, .
Albright, David, and Kimberly Kramer, November/December 2004, “Fissile material: Stockpiles still growing”, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol.60, No.6, pp.14-16, .
Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office, n.d., “The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime: An overview of Institutional & Technical Issues”, .
Boureston, Jack, and Charles D. Ferguson, March/April 2005, “Laser enrichment: Separation anxiety”, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol.61, No.2, pp.14-18, .
Burnie, Shaun, April 2005, “Proliferation Report: sensitive nuclear technology and plutonium technologies in the Republic of Korea and Japan”, Greenpeace report, .
Carlson, John, 2000, “Nuclear Energy and Non-proliferation – Issues and Challenges: An Australian Perspective”, Paper prepared for JAIF Symposium on Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy and Non-Proliferation, Tokyo, 9-10 March 2000.
Carlson, John, November 27, 2006, supplementary submission 30.2 to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, Inquiry into Uranium Sales To China, .
Davies, Andrew, 2006, Australian uranium exports and security: Preventing proliferation. Australian Strategic Policy Institute . .
El Baradei, Mohamed, n.d., various speeches and papers available at .
Feiveson, Harold, 2001, “The Search for Proliferation-Resistant Nuclear Power”, The Journal of the Federation of American Scientists, September/October 2001, Volume 54, Number 5, .
Friedman, John S., 1997, “More power to thorium?”, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 53, No.5, September/October .
Green, Jim, 2002, “Research Reactors and Nuclear Weapons”, paper prepared for the Medical Association for the Prevention of War, .
Greenpeace, 2004, “Secrets, Lies and Uranium Enrichment: The Classified Silex Project at Lucas Heights”, .
Gsponer, A., and J-P. Hurni, 2004 “ITER: The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor and the Nuclear Weapons Proliferation Implications of Thermonuclear-Fusion Energy Systems”, Independent Scientific Research Institute report number ISRI-04-01, .
Harding, Jim, 2004, “Pebble Bed Modular Reactors—Status and Prospects”,
Hirsch, Helmut, Oda Becker, Mycle Schneider and Antony Froggatt, April 2005, “Nuclear Reactor Hazards: Ongoing Dangers of Operating Nuclear Technology in the 21st Century”, Report prepared for Greenpeace International, .
Hore-Lacy, Ian, 2000, “The Future of Nuclear Energy”, .
ISIS – Institute for Science and International Security, n.d., “Nuclear Weapons Programs Worldwide: An Historical Overview”, .
ISIS – Institute for Science and International Security, 2004, “Civil Plutonium Produced in Power Reactors”, .
Nuclear Weapon Archive, n.d., “Nuclear Weapon Nations and Arsenals”, .
UN Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, “A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility”, November 2004, .
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von Hippel, Frank, and Suzanne Jones, 1997, “The slow death of the fast breeder”, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol.53, No.5, September/October.
WISE/NIRS, February 13, 2004, “The Proliferation Risks of ITER”, WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor, #603, .