Evaluation of proliferation risk of a fuel cycle deployed in a particular host state is a more complex concept than proliferation resistance and includes analysis of country-specific issues such as the probability of host-state proliferation (including its intent, motivations, and technical capabilities) and the consequences of proliferation. Proliferation is an act carried out by a motivated host state, not a failure of an engineered system. Because the process of proliferation generally occurs in secret, detailed data on the factors relevant to the probability that a host state would choose to proliferate along a particular path or the probability of success along that pathway are not readily available. In addition, factors influencing proliferation risk will change over time, for example, a change in regime or in perceptions of regional security. Choices about proliferation pathways also could evolve over time, based on the ability to overcome safeguards and avoid detection, as well as advances in technical capabilities or the ability to acquire technology covertly. The resources a host state might allocate to achieving success would depend on the strength of its motivation, which in turn would depend on its perception of the benefits of nuclear weapons. Because of the limited number of cases of proliferation in general, and the secrecy of the process, data on all these factors are very limited, and trends that could guide a technical analysis of probability have been difficult to determine. Historical case studies provide some relevant data about countries that have given up nuclear weapons programs in the past, but limited data are available on successful efforts. Close cooperation with inside experts familiar with successful proliferation efforts (either in the past, or ongoing) is unlikely.

Several National Research Council reports have addressed the issue of whether and how risk assessment could be applied in contexts where, unlike traditional risk assessments for natural hazards, action by intelligent adversaries gives rise to the risk. A 2010 report on the use of risk assessment for terrorism concluded:

However, with the exception of risk analysis for natural disaster preparedness, the committee did not find any DHS risk analysis capabilities and methods that are yet adequate for supporting DHS decision making, because their validity and reliability are untested. Moreover, it is not yet clear that DHS is on a trajectory for development of methods and capability that is sufficient to ensure reliable risk analyses other than for natural disasters. (NRC 2010, p. 80)

Similarly, a more recent report (NRC 2011) concluded that, because adversaries may be intelligent, creative, and adaptive, a basis for assigning probabilities of attack has not been established.

A somewhat more optimistic view of the potential for using risk assessment in the context of intelligent adversaries was taken in Department of Homeland Security Bioterrorism Risk Assessment: A Call for Change (NRC 2008). This report includes a table titled “Natural Hazards Versus Terrorism Risks: Comparison of Key Characteristics” and makes the observation that:

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