Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Unmaking the Bomb

Unmaking the Bomb: A Fissile Material Approach to Nuclear Disarmament and Nonproliferation

Harold A. Feiveson
Alexander Glaser
Zia Mian
Frank N. von Hippel
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 296
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Unmaking the Bomb
    Book Description:

    Achieving nuclear disarmament, stopping nuclear proliferation, and preventing nuclear terrorism are among the most critical challenges facing the world today.Unmaking the Bombproposes a new approach to reaching these long-held goals. Rather than considering them as separate issues, the authors -- physicists and experts on nuclear security -- argue that all three of these goals can be understood and realized together if we focus on the production, stockpiling, and disposal of plutonium and highly enriched uranium -- the fissile materials that are the key ingredients used to make nuclear weapons. The authors describe the history, production, national stockpiles, and current military and civilian uses of plutonium and highly enriched uranium, and propose policies aimed at reducing and eventually eliminating these fissile materials worldwide. These include an end to the production of highly enriched uranium and plutonium for weapons, an end to their use as reactor fuels, and the verified elimination of all national stockpiles.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-31918-8
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xi)
    Harold Feiveson, Alexander Glaser, Zia Mian and Frank von Hippel
  4. Map of Enrichment and Reprocessing Facilities Worldwide
    (pp. xii-xiv)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    With the invention and use of the atomic bomb, humanity developed the means to end civilization within hours. While nuclear weapons have not been used in war since then, threats and preparations to use them and the pursuit of the capability to produce them have cast a terrible shadow over the world. It is hard to see how disaster can be forever forestalled in a world that now has nine states holding nuclear weapons, with additional countries and terrorist groups possibly seeking to acquire them.

    Earlier historical epochs were called the Stone Age and the Iron Age. For almost seven...

  6. I How the Nuclear World Emerged

    • 2 Production, Uses, and Stocks of Fissile Materials
      (pp. 21-42)

      The fissile materials used in nuclear weapons are plutonium and highly enriched uranium, uranium that contains at least 20 percent of the isotope uranium-235. This chapter lays out how these fissile materials are produced and how they are used in nuclear weapons.

      Nuclear fission was discovered in December 1938 by Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann in Berlin, and explained soon afterward by Lise Meitner and her nephew, Otto Frisch, then refugees in Stockholm and Copenhagen, respectively. Ever since Henri Becquerel and Marie and Pierre Curie discovered radioactivity around the turn of the century, scientists had dreamed of a nuclear reaction...

    • 3 The History of Fissile Material Production for Weapons
      (pp. 43-68)

      The production of highly enriched uranium and plutonium was perhaps the key challenge for the U.S. World War II nuclear weapons project. The technologies that the United States developed provided the template for the nuclear weapons programs that followed.

      The United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, and France have all formally declared an end to the production of such material for weapons (table 3.1 ). China has let it be known that it has not produced fissile material for weapons since about 1990 but has declined to declare that this moratorium is permanent because of its concerns that the developing...

    • 4 The Global Stockpile of Fissile Material
      (pp. 69-84)

      Seven decades of effort to produce fissile materials in large amounts for both military and civilian programs have left an enormous global stockpile of highly enriched uranium and plutonium. As of the end of 2012, this combined stockpile was about 1,900 tons, about three-quarters of which was HEU and the rest plutonium.

      As of 2013, almost all of the HEU stockpile and about half of the plutonium stockpile were produced for weapon purposes. Some of the weapon states produced additional HEU for naval and research reactor fuel. Since the 1970s, some non-weapon states also acquired the capability to separate plutonium...

  7. II Breaking the Nuclear Energy-Weapons Link

    • 5 Fissile Materials, Nuclear Power, and Nuclear Proliferation
      (pp. 87-106)

      The relationship between nuclear power and nuclear proliferation is complex and has changed over time, but it was the U.S. 1953 Atoms for Peace program that launched the large-scale sustained dissemination of nuclear expertise and technologies to non-weapon states. Atoms for Peace also led to the establishment in 1957 of the International Atomic Energy Agency, with its dual mission of promoting the peaceful use of nuclear technologies and materials while, at the same time, monitoring their use with “safeguards” to ensure that they are not used to produce nuclear weapons.¹ This approach subsequently became the foundation for the verification requirements...

    • 6 Ending the Separation of Plutonium
      (pp. 107-124)

      Plutonium was discovered in a series of experiments starting at the end of 1940 and its fission was demonstrated soon afterward in early 1941. It was quickly recognized that this artificial chain-reacting element could be a potential nuclear weapon material, and soon one major focus of the U.S. Manhattan Project became to build nuclear reactors to produce plutonium in weapon quantities. At the same time, some nuclear scientists hoped that some good might possibly come out of the nuclear weapons program—specifically that nuclear reactors could offer a large-scale source of electric power for society. After World War II, the...

    • 7 Ending the Use of HEU as a Reactor Fuel
      (pp. 125-140)

      As of 2013, virtually all nuclear power reactors are fueled by natural or low-enriched uranium enriched to less than 5 percent in uranium-235. LEU is not weapon-usable. There are hundreds of compact research reactors and naval propulsion reactors, however, that use highly enriched uranium as fuel. This HEU is a potential source of nuclear weapons material for governments interested in acquiring nuclear weapons and for would-be nuclear terrorists. Whether a reactor is fueled with natural or low-enriched uranium or HEU therefore has important implications with regard to the dangers of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism and for progress in reducing...

  8. III Eliminating Fissile Materials

    • 8 Ending Production of Fissile Materials for Weapons
      (pp. 143-158)

      In December 1993, the United Nations General Assembly agreed, without a dissenting vote, on a resolution developed by a group of nineteen countries, including the United States and India and led by Canada, calling for “a non-discriminatory, multilateral and internationally and effectively verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”¹

      It was expected that negotiations would begin at the United Nations Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva after talks on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) were completed in 1996. As of the end of 2013, negotiations had not started on a...

    • 9 Disposal of Fissile Materials
      (pp. 159-172)

      Since the end of the Cold War, Russia and the United States have declared substantial quantities of their highly enriched uranium and plutonium excess to any military need and agreed to dispose of them. Much of the excess HEU already has been blended down to low-enriched uranium and preparations are being made to dispose of the excess plutonium. The United Kingdom, with a stockpile of approximately 100 tons of separated civilian plutonium—more than one-third of the global stockpile of separated civilian plutonium—also is actively studying how to dispose of its material.¹

      Much more Russian and U.S. weapons material...

    • 10 Conclusion: Unmaking the Bomb
      (pp. 173-184)

      The production of fissile materials and the invention of nuclear weapons ushered in a new era in human affairs, one that held the potential for global catastrophe. In June 1945, with the world’s first uranium enrichment plants beginning to produce tens of kilograms of highly enriched uranium and the first production reactors creating kilogram quantities of plutonium, a group of Manhattan Project scientists led by James Franck warned the U.S. government that “the development of nuclear power is fraught with infinitely greater dangers than were all the inventions of the past.”¹

      Based at the University of Chicago, the scientists’ group...

  9. Appendix 1: Enrichment Plants
    (pp. 185-186)
  10. Appendix 2: Reprocessing Plants
    (pp. 187-188)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 189-232)
  12. Glossary
    (pp. 233-242)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 243-262)
  14. Index
    (pp. 263-278)