Nuclear Proliferation

Nuclear Proliferation – The Growing Danger

Presenter: John Pope

April, 2016

Nuclear proliferation is the spread of nuclear weapons, fissionable material, and weapons-applicable nuclear technology and information to nations not recognized as “Nuclear Weapon States” by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty or NPT.  []

The NPT recognizes five states as nuclear-weapon states: the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China (also the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council).

Since the NPT entered into force in 1970, three states that were not parties to the Treaty have conducted nuclear tests, namely India, Pakistan, and North Korea.  Israel is also widely presumed to have nuclear weapons [].

Last week, the US hosted a nuclear security summit.

Much of the discussion was about efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons technology and materials.  There were dire warnings about the likelihood of a terrorist group obtaining a ‘dirty bomb’ [].

Background information

Safeguards to Prevent Nuclear Proliferation

  • Most countries participate in international initiatives designed to limit the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
  • The international safeguards system has since 1970 successfully prevented the diversion of fissile materials into weapons. Its scope has been widened to address undeclared nuclear activities.
  • The International Atomic Energy Association undertakes regular inspections of civil nuclear facilities and audits the movement of nuclear materials through them.
  • Safeguards are backed by diplomatic and economic measures.

Nuclear Proliferation Case Studies

  • North Korea made weapons-grade plutonium using a research reactor and a reprocessing plant in defiance of its NPT obligations. In 2006, 2009 and February 2013 it exploded nuclear devices.
  • In 2002 Iran’s previously undeclared nuclear facilities became the subject of IAEA inquiry, which established that it appeared to be in violation of its NPT safeguards agreement. It continued uranium enrichment in defiance of the UN Security Council.
  • Iraq to 1991 attempted to enrich indigenous uranium to weapons-grade material, in violation of NPT and Safeguards obligations.
  • Syria constructed a nuclear reactor in breach of its NPT obligations.


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Discussion Questions

What are the chances of a nuclear war (planet destruction)?

What are the chances of terrorists getting a nuclear weapon?

What are the chances of terrorists getting nuclear materials to make a ‘dirty bomb’?

Is enough being done to prevent a nuclear catastrophe?

Should nuclear weapons be abolished?