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Research Report

Components of Naval Nuclear Fuel Transparency

Morten Bremer Maerli
Copyright Date: Jun. 1, 2002
Pages: 55

Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. 1-2)
  2. (pp. 3-4)
  3. (pp. 5-6)

    The primary obstacle to clandestine and unlawful nuclear weapon production is to get access to sufficient quantities and qualities of fissile material. Highly enriched uranium or plutonium is the essential components of any nuclear explosive device. It is considerably easier to make a bomb using enriched uranium than using plutonium.² Potential proliferators could therefore try to divert uranium material directly from any weapons-usable source, e.g. from the naval fuel cycle, due to the extremely high enrichment levels and low radiation levels.³ Highly enriched naval fuel cycles may thus serve as a back door for production of clandestine nuclear weapons.


  4. (pp. 7-12)

    While existing arms control agreements do not include any restrictions on the stockpiles of fissile material, the stocks of fissile material place a de facto upper limit on the number of warheads that can be produced. Today there is no requirement to eliminate any nuclear warheads: current agreements only require elimination of delivery systems and put limits on the number of warheads each can carry. The existence of large stockpiles of fissile material will create a potential for rapid and large-scale “breakouts” from treaty obligations. Thus, if military nuclear arms reductions are to be made permanent, more information will have...

  5. (pp. 13-16)

    All the five declared nuclear weapon states under the Non-Proliferation Treaty possess nuclear-propelled submarines. However, as nuclear weapon states, they are all exempted from international (IAEA) safeguards and other monitoring activities.31 Sensitivity issues and the strategic importance of nuclear submarines have led the nuclear weapon states to maintain a high degree of secrecy around their own nuclear naval operations. Very little is officially known about U.S. and Russian submarine nuclear fuel designs, production technology, operational data and naval fuel stocks.32

    No official figures exist on the U.S. stockpiles of HEU for naval purposes or material destined for future naval consumption....

  6. (pp. 17-22)

    The introduction of transparency on sensitive items will have to balance carefully the information extracted against security and classification concerns. All the same, there seem to be good prospects of such measures being implemented on the sensitive naval fuel cycle, as political acceptance of the concept of transparency is emerging. This could, together with the new technical opportunities of high-quality and non-intrusive verification measures, create an important foundation for new transparency initiatives.54

    The naval nuclear fuel transparency measures could include the following as part of a more comprehensive, future transparency regime: 55

    declarations of total HEU quantities dedicated to naval...

  7. (pp. 23-24)

    The lack of transparency on the naval fuel cycles is likely to be detrimental to long-term nuclear security of both nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states. The persistent interest in naval nuclear propulsion around the world, possible exports of Russian naval reactor technology, and the tempting naval nuclear loophole in the NPT safeguards agreement – all of these could create new HEU markets beyond international control. The need for an international transparency norm to increase confidence in non-diversion of highly enriched naval fuel to clandestine nuclear weapon production may therefore be stronger than anticipated.

    The components of the transparency...

  8. (pp. 47-52)
  9. (pp. 53-54)
  10. (pp. 55-55)