Proliferation of nuclear weapons and technology

Other Names:
Diversion of nuclear materials

Proliferation, in the sense of spread of independent ownership of nuclear weapons to more nations than those which currently possess them, is detrimental to international peace and security. The risks of using nuclear weapons are likely to increase the more there are independent possessor nations in the world. Nuclear source materials used for peaceful purposes cannot be safeguarded against diversion to military activities. There is danger in the lack of agreement by countries having nuclear reactors, to allow inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency of all such facilities for monitoring of the nuclear fuel cycle in order to detect or prevent diversion to military purposes. IAEA nations without nuclear weapons have agreed that membership is conditional upon such inspections, but the nuclear weapon nations are on a voluntary basis to negotiate terms of inspections and other safeguards. Only the UK and the USA have done so, while the USSR has made a token agreement to allow inspection of a portion of its 40 operating reactors.


Nuclear technology is spreading rapidly around the globe, because of the need for alternative energy production. In 1986, 26 countries had about 380 operating commercial nuclear power stations. As a by-product of this power production, considerable quantities of plutonium are produced each year: over 100 tons in 1980. About one third of this plutonium is produced in the present non-nuclear-weapon countries. This in theory could correspond to the production of about 100 nuclear weapons of nominal size per week in such countries. In the US, 23 university research reactors using highly enriched, weapons-grade uranium (such as the University of Missouri with 45 kgs and MIT with 29 kgs) have insufficient security to prevent theft, but are unwilling to convert to low-enriched uranium, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

A 1993 report estimated nuclear weapons sales in the Middle East, including those suspected between North Korea and Iran, exceeded £30 billion during the previous three years. North Korea was believed to have hidden enough plutonium to construct between 2 and 5 atomic bombs by 1995.

Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
Problem Type:
D: Detailed problems
Date of last update
04.10.2020 – 22:48 CEST