became available at lightly guarded facilities; it is unclear how much was lost to theft, but proliferation concerns remain. Another concern arises from the many nuclear weapons in Pakistan, and whether they are controlled adequately.
Proliferation could occur in several ways: (1) the spread of knowledge about how to build nuclear weapons to other countries, (2) knowledge of—and access to—the physical technology used to construct nuclear weapons, (3) access to the materials from which a nuclear weapon could be constructed (e.g., SNM), and (4) access to people who have been engaged in nuclear weapons technology in other nations.
Because the first nuclear weapons were built using technology that was later adapted for use in civilian nuclear power plants and the civilian nuclear fuel cycle, the role that fission power could play in proliferation has been considered for decades. An international safeguards regime to detect attempts at proliferation is currently in place and operated by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This regime, which is based on the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), involves cooperation in developing nuclear energy while ensuring that nuclear power plants and fuel cycle facilities are used only for peaceful purposes.
The risk of nuclear proliferation could also be associated with ICF research facilities or, possibly in the future, IFE plants. For example, IFE plants and ICF research facilities provide an intense source of neutrons, which could, in principle, be used to generate 239Pu from 238U. In addition, information that could help countries develop more advanced boosted weapons or thermonuclear weapons could be gained from a thorough understanding of a fusion facility’s operation.
While the effect of a fission-only weapon can be devastating, the development of two-stage (both fission and fusion) thermonuclear weapons can provide much higher yield per weapon. By using an ICF facility to improve its understanding of the physics of fusion, a nation might glean information useful in transitioning its weapons program into a much more complex, modern, and threatening system. In fact, the U.S. research program in laboratory-based ICF has been largely funded by the nuclear weapons program, because valuable information can be learned from ICF that can otherwise be learned only from nuclear testing.2
Because IFE is still at an early stage as a potential energy source, international treaties related to nuclear weapons and proliferation do not clearly apply to IFE at this time. However, given the value of ICF to the U.S. nuclear weapons program
2 The moratorium on nuclear testing announced on October 2, 1992, by President George H.W. Bush and extended by the Clinton administration remains in effect. It was reinforced by the 1996 U.S. signing of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which, however, has not been ratified by the U.S. Senate. The information gained by the nuclear weapons program is related to improving our understanding of weapons components built during the cold war, including the effects of aging on component performance.