Nuclear Issues

83 Items

A missile on display during a military parade in Moscow's Red Square in 2016.

Wikimedia Commons

Report Chapter - American Academy of Arts & Sciences

The Rise and Decline of Global Nuclear Order?

| April 2021

The first half century of the nuclear age witnessed the gradual construction of a global nuclear order designed to mitigate nuclear dangers, inhibit arms racing, and prevent the spread of nuclear weapons to additional states. Spurred by the experiences, the dangers, the crises, the near misses, and the frightening risks on display in the early years of the Cold War, sustained efforts were made, in McGeorge Bundy’s vivid phrase, “to cap the volcano.” The time had arrived, Bundy wrote in 1969, for the two great nuclear superpowers “to limit their extravagant contest in strategic weapons,” a contest that had “led the two greatest powers of our generation into an arms race totally unprecedented in size and danger.” In the subsequent twenty-five years after Bundy’s appeal, an increasingly elaborate and institutionalized arms control process produced, with many ups and downs, a detailed web of constraints on the nuclear behavior of the superpowers. The articulated goal was to stabilize the superpower nuclear balance by reinforcing mutual deterrence. The vast nuclear arsenals of the superpowers, however, were not the only source of nuclear danger. In a world in which the number of states armed with nuclear weapons was slowly growing and many additional states had interest in acquiring such weapons or the technology to produce them, there was reason, as Albert Wohlstetter warned in 1961, to be “concerned with the enormous instabilities and dangers of a world with many nuclear powers.” Such a world—“life in a nuclear armed crowd”—Wohlstetter wrote in a later famous study, was widely believed to be “vastly more dangerous than today’s world.” The desire to prevent this unattractive world led to the negotiation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which entered into force in 1970, and to the subsequent development of an associated regime intended to create legal and technical barriers to the spread of nuclear weapons. Thus, in reaction to the major perceived dangers of the nuclear age, there emerged what Lawrence Freedman calls the “twin pillars” of the global nuclear order: mutual stability in the major nuclear rivalry and nonproliferation to inhibit or prevent the spread of nuclear weapons to additional states.

Paper - Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy

Stabilizing Sino-Indian Security Relations: Managing the Strategic Rivalry After Doklam

| June 21, 2018

The paper provides a detailed analysis of the contemporary Sino-Indian conventional ground and nuclear force balances and carefully reconstructs how mutual developments in these areas are perceived by both New Delhi and Beijing.

Report - International Panel on Fissile Materials

China’s Fissile Material Production and Stockpile

| January 2018

China began producing highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium for nuclear weapons in the 1960s and is believed to have halted production the 1980s. Despite the passage of thirty years there has been no official policy declaration in this regard. This report uses newly available public information from Chinese sources to provide an improved reconstruction of the history of China’s production of HEU and plutonium for nuclear weapons. This allows improved estimates of the amount of HEU and plutonium China has produced and of its current stockpiles.

Paper - Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

Interpreting the Bomb: Ownership and Deterrence in Ukraine's Nuclear Discourse

| December 2017

Nuclear deterrence thinking has become so entrenched in U.S. academic and policy circles that it only seems natural that other states regard nuclear weapons in the same terms. Yet is it necessarily so? In this working paper, Polina Sinovets and Mariana Budjeryn examine the case of Ukraine to understand how its leaders interpreted the value of the nuclear weapons deployed on Ukrainian territory in 1990–1994.

Los Alamos National Laboratory, National Security Science, July 2015

Los Alamos National Laboratory

Discussion Paper - Managing the Atom Project, Belfer Center

When Did (and Didn’t) States Proliferate?

| June 2017

In this Project on Managing the Atom Discussion Paper, Philipp C. Bleek chronicles nuclear weapons proliferation choices throughout the nuclear age. Since the late 1930s and early 1940s, some thirty-one countries are known to have at least explored the possibility of establishing a nuclear weapons program. Seventeen of those countries launched weapons programs, and ten acquired deliverable nuclear weapons.

A fuel fabrication facility at the Yongbyon Nuclear Center in North Korea, February 2008.


Report - Institute for Science and International Security

Correlating the Operation of the Coal Plant to Reprocessing Activities at Yongbyon

| April 15, 2016

As of April 2016, there are growing indications that North Korea has separated, is separating, or will soon be separating plutonium from irradiated fuel at the Radiochemical Laboratory, a process commonly referred to as reprocessing. An analysis of recent satellite imagery obtained shows several activities, which could be correlated to the preparation or actual reprocessing activities underway.

Discussion Paper - Managing the Atom Project, Belfer Center

The Three Overlapping Streams of India's Nuclear Power Programs

| April 15, 2016

As India’s civilian nuclear energy program expands with the assistance of international nuclear suppliers, it creates new potential pathways to the acquisition of fissile material that could be diverted for military purposes. A key question is whether and how India’s civilian and military nuclear facilities are separated. In this discussion paper from the Belfer Center’s Project on Managing the Atom, Kalman A. Robertson and John Carlson argue that India has not established a complete and verifiable separation of its civilian and military nuclear programs. The authors recommend steps for India to take under its safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency to provide assurances to all states that components of its civilian program are not contributing to the growth of its nuclear arsenal. These steps include renouncing options that would facilitate the use of safeguarded items to produce unsafeguarded nuclear material, and placing the proliferation-sensitive components of its nuclear power industry under continuous safeguards.

China’s Nuclear Security: Progress, Challenges, and Next Steps

REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Report - Managing the Atom Project, Belfer Center

China’s Nuclear Security: Progress, Challenges, and Next Steps

| March 28, 2016

In a new report from the Project on Managing the Atom, Senior Research Associate Hui Zhang finds that China has made important nuclear security improvements in areas ranging from its legal framework, to its approaches to physical protection and material accounting, to bolstering nuclear security culture. But China also faces ongoing threats. The possibility of insider theft of nuclear materials in China cannot be ruled out, espe­cially as China increasingly grows into a market-oriented society contending with corruption. Zhang also notes that Beijing faces a growing terrorism threat from separatists in China’s autonomous Xinjiang region.

Representatives of participating companies sign containers with uranium to be used as fuel for nuclear reactors, prior to loading them aboard Atlantic Navigator ship, in St. Petersburg, Russia, November 14, 2013.


Report - National Academies Press

Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors

| January 28, 2016

Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors is a report of the Committee on the Current Status of and Progress Toward Eliminating Highly Enriched Uranium Use in Fuel for Civilian Research and Test Reactors. The committee was established by the Nuclear and Radiation Studies Board, Division on Earth and Life Studies and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The report is the result of a congressionally mandated study (P.L. 112-239, Section 31781) to assess improvement in reducing highly enriched uranium use in fuel for civilian research and test reactors.


Belfer Center Senior Fellow William Tobey is a member of the Committee that produced the report.