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The threat of the spread of nuclear, chemical, biological and radiological weapons to many countries remains one of the most serious foreign policy issues facing the U.S. today, as is illustrated by the concerns over Iran’s nuclear program. There is often little technical support for the diverse views expressed on this subject even though the technical details are important. On this site Gregory S. Jones, who has been a nonproliferation specialist for over forty years, provides non-partisan, independent and in-depth analysis on a variety of proliferation-related issues.
Gregory S. Jones, “How is China Producing the Tritium Needed for Its Nuclear Weapons?” April 25, 2023. China’s modern nuclear arsenal is completely dependent on tritium to have functional nuclear weapons. However, between 1986 and at least 2010, China had no obvious means of producing the required tritium. It is likely that China operated a clandestine tritium production reactor during this time. The projected large increase in China’s nuclear arsenal will require it to produce large amounts of tritium in its nuclear power reactors. To read a pdf of the full paper click here
Gregory S. Jones, “What is the Minimum Enrichment of Weapon-Grade Highly Enriched Uranium?” March 16, 2023. The International Atomic Energy Agency recently discovered that Iran has produced highly enriched uranium (HEU) with an enrichment of 83.7%. Though it is widely believed that HEU must be at least 90% enriched to be weapon-grade, based on historical experience, a minimum enrichment of 80% is a better definition of weapon-grade HEU. Therefore, the 83.7% enriched HEU produced by Iran is certainly weapon-grade. To read a pdf of the full paper click here
Gregory S. Jones, “Iran’s Uranium Enrichment Program: September 2022 Update,” October 4, 2022. Iran has contin ued steady production of 60% enriched uranium and its production of 20% enriched uranium has increase substantially. Iran can now produce sufficient enriched uranium for three nuclear weapons in only about one month, a fourth nuclear weapon in one additional month and a fifth nuclear weapon in two months after the fourth. The world appears to have become increasingly resigned to Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons. To read a pdf of the full paper click here
Gregory S. Jones, “Bill Gates’s Natrium Nuclear Reactor Is Not The Answer to Climate Change,” August 31, 2022. The timeline for the construction of the Natrium reactor is unrealistic and at best only a few such reactors can be built by 2050, when the U.S. plans to be carbon neutral. The HALEU fuel for these reactors is a special problem since there are currently no facilities to produce HALEU nor to manufacture their metallic fuel. It is not clear that the metallic fuel is a suitable long-term waste form and novel features of the reactor raises safety issues which must be resolved before the reactor can be licensed. To read a pdf of the full paper click here
Gregory S. Jones, “Iran’s Uranium Enrichment Program: June 2022 Update,” July 6, 2022. Iran’s stockpiles of 60% and 20% enriched uranium have grown large enough that Iran can now produce its first weapon’s worth of 90% enriched uranium in just one week and the highly enriched uranium for three weapons in a month. Iran is unlikely to break out of IAEA safeguards in the near-term but rather will probably just continue to increase its highly enriched uranium stocks. To read a pdf of the full paper click here
Gregory S. Jones, “Iran’s Uranium Enrichment Program: March 2022 Update,” March 28, 2022. Iran’s stockpiles of 20% and 60% enriched uranium have grown large enough that Iran can now produce its first weapon’s worth of 90% enriched uranium in just one week and the highly enriched uranium for four weapons in two-and-one-half months. Prospects for preventing an eventual Iranian nuclear weapon continue to be poor. To read a pdf of the full paper click here
Gregory S. Jones, “Stanford/MIT Study on the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant: Advocacy Masquerading as Analysis,” February 22, 2022. The Stanford/MIT study is unbalanced, as it considers only the benefits and not the risks and costs of keeping the reactors at Diablo Canyon in operation past their currently planned shutdown dates of 2024 and 2025. No decision should be made until a serious analysis of these risks and costs is performed. To read a pdf of the full paper click here
Gregory S. Jones, “Iran’s Uranium Enrichment Program: November 2021 Update,” December 2, 2021. Iran’s stockpiles of 20% and 60% enriched uranium have now grown large enough that Iran can now produce its first weapon’s worth of 90% enriched uranium in just one week and the highly enriched uranium for three weapons in two-and-one half months. Prospects for preventing an eventual Iranian nuclear weapon continue to be poor. To read a pdf of the full paper click here
Gregory S. Jones, “Iran’s Uranium Enrichment Program: September 2021 Update,” September 27, 2021. Iran has recovered from the April 2021 sabotage of its main enrichment site at Natanz and is continuing to accumulate 20% and 60% enriched uranium. As a result, Iran can now produce its first weapon’s worth of 90% enriched uranium in just three-and-one-half weeks and a second weapon’s worth six weeks thereafter. Prospects for preventing an eventual Iranian nuclear weapon appear to be poor. To read a pdf of the full paper click here
Gregory S, Jones, “Constraints on Possible High Yield North Korean Nuclear Weapons: Weight and Nuclear Material Requirements,” August 24, 2021. North Korea’s nuclear weapons appear to rely almost exclusively on HEU. As a result, any high yield weapons will be relatively heavy, limiting the range of North Korean ballistic missiles. These weapons will also require large amounts of HEU, reducing the size of North Korea’s nuclear stockpile. To read a pdf of the full paper click here
Gregory S. Jones, “Iran’s Uranium Enrichment Program: June 2021 Update,” July 8, 2021. Despite various acts of sabotage against the Iranian centrifuge enrichment program, today Iran could produce sufficient highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon in just two months, should it choose to do so. It could produce enough HEU for a second weapon in an additional two months. Prospects for preventing an eventual Iranian nuclear weapon appear to be poor. To read a pdf of the full paper click here
Gregory S. Jones, “Pakistan’s Nuclear Material Production for Nuclear Weapons,” February 16, 2021. Estimates of Pakistan’s nuclear material production need to account for the production of tritium for boosted nuclear weapons. Currently Pakistan could have enough nuclear material for about 250 nuclear weapons of which 100 could be boosted. Pakistan appears to have the capacity to supply sufficient natural uranium to support its nuclear material production. To read a pdf of the full paper click here
Gregory S. Jones, “Iran’s Uranium Enrichment Program: November 2020 Update,” December 7, 2020. Iran is continuing to accumulate low enriched uranium at a steady rate and it will likely have sufficient material to process into the highly enriched uranium needed for a nuclear weapon by early 2021. There appears to be no good option for stopping Iran’s progress and the U.S. may need to start planning for how it will deal with a nuclear-armed Iran. To read a pdf of the full paper click here
Gregory S. Jones, “Iran’s Uranium Enrichment Program: September 2020 Update,” September 29, 2020. Iran is continuing to accumulate low enriched uranium at the same rate as it has for most of 2020. This uranium could be processed into the highly enriched uranium needed to produce a nuclear weapon. At its current pace, Iran will not have sufficient low enriched uranium to process into a nuclear weapon until early 2021. There is still time to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Consequently, the current U.S. policy of maximum pressure should be maintained. To read a pdf of the full paper click here
Gregory S. Jones, “Iran’s Uranium Enrichment Program: An Update” July 9, 2020. Iran is continuing to accumulate low enriched uranium that could be processed into the highly enriched uranium needed to produce a nuclear weapon. At its current pace, Iran will not have sufficient low enriched uranium to process into a nuclear weapon until at least early 2021. The current U.S. policy of maximum pressure still has time to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon and should be maintained. To read a pdf of the full paper click here
Gregory S. Jones “Iran’s Uranium Enrichment Program Making Strides but Still At Least Six Months From Being Able to Produce Enough HEU for a Nuclear Weapon.” April 2, 2020. Iran has been enriching uranium beyond the limits set by the JCPOA since July 2019. However, due to the small size of its 4.5% enriched uranium stockpile, Iran is at least six months and more likely a number of years away from producing sufficient HEU for a nuclear weapon. The current U.S. policy of maximum pressure still has time to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon and should be maintained. To read a pdf of the full paper click here
Gregory S. Jones, “The U.S. Program to Produce Tritium Using Commercial Power Reactors: 2019 Update.” January 30, 2020. The U.S. program to produce tritium using the commercial nuclear power reactors at Watts Bar appears to be turning the corner. Watts Bar 1 will likely demonstrate the necessary per reactor tritium production rate when its current batch of TPBARs are discharged in the spring of 2020. However, until there is sufficient tritium production at Watts Bar 2, which will likely not occur until the fall of 2023 at the earliest, the U.S. tritium stockpile will continue to decline. To read a pdf of the full paper click here
Gregory S. Jones, “The Versatile Test Reactor: Wasting Money While Undermining Nonproliferation Goals,” November 18, 2019. In February 2019, DOE announced the start of a project to build the Versatile Test Reactor. However, the need that the VTR is intended to meet does not exist. DOE’s plan to use an immature technology to build this reactor on an accelerated schedule runs a high risk of major delays and cost overruns. The requirement for the reactor to use plutonium fuel seriously undermines U.S. nonproliferation policy. This project should not continue. To read a pdf of the full paper click here
Gregory S. Jones, “Ron Robin’s Biography of Roberta and Albert Wohlstetter: Setting the Record Straight,” October 7, 2019. This paper critiques Robin’s 2016 book, The Cold World They Made: The Strategic Legacy of Roberta and Albert Wohlstetter. The paper provides a detailed background to the Wohlstetters’ groundbreaking work which Robin has so misunderstood and mischaracterized. It also examines the professional relationship between Albert Wohlstetter and the military strategist Bernard Brodie. To read a pdf of the full paper click here
Gregory S. Jones, “Do India and Pakistan Possess Boosted Nuclear Weapons? Tritium Supply Considerations,” July 31, 2019. An examination of the possible sources of Indian and Pakistani tritium can provide insight into whether these countries possess boosted nuclear weapons. It does not appear that India has extracted any significant quantities of tritium from its heavy water moderated power reactors. As a result, India probably has few if any boosted nuclear weapons in its arsenal. On the other hand, Pakistan could be producing large amounts of tritium if it is irradiating lithium in several of its plutonium production reactors at Khushab. Pakistan is therefore more likely than India to possess a significant number of boosted nuclear weapons. To read a pdf of the full paper click here
Gregory S. Jones, “Reactor-Grade Plutonium and Nuclear Weapons: Ending the Debate.” This article in The Nonproliferation Review was first published on-line May 9, 2019. The article is a somewhat updated version of my book on reactor-grade plutonium and demonstrates that by using a reduced mass core, a country can manufacture reliable nuclear weapons with reactor-grade plutonium. These weapons can have the same design, size, weight and predetonation probability as weapons using weapon-grade plutonium and would require no special cooling. The article can be obtained here. Non-subscribers will need to pay a fee to access the article. The article’s technical appendix describes in detail my calculations of the predetonation probability of nuclear weapons using reactor-grade plutonium. My methodology allows, for the first time, accurate calculation of the predetonation probability and yield of unboosted implosion weapons using reactor-grade plutonium. The appendix can be downloaded for free here.
Gregory S. Jones “Estimating Israel’s Stocks of Plutonium, Tritium and HEU,” September 18, 2018. Estimates of Israel’s nuclear material stocks must take into account the production of tritium at the Dimona reactor in addition to plutonium. Producing tritium requires using enriched uranium fuel, which in turn implies that Israel has an indigenous uranium enrichment capacity. Israel’s nuclear arsenal size is likely in the range of 80 to 145 weapons. Since Israel has only conducted one nuclear test, it probably only has boosted nuclear weapons but not two-stage thermonuclear ones. To read a pdf of the full paper click here.
Book Publication, April 16, 2018, Reactor-Grade Plutonium and Nuclear Weapons: Exploding the Myths, by Gregory S. Jones. This book uses publicly available, unclassified information to debunk the persistent fallacy that reactor-grade plutonium cannot be used to build reliable nuclear weapons. This belief has long been held by a segment of the nuclear power industry determined to use plutonium as reactor fuel despite its highly uneconomical nature. Further, this mistaken belief has made it possible for many non-nuclear weapon states to readily acquire reactor-grade plutonium. Such countries would find it difficult to obtain weapon-grade plutonium, as Syria found out in 2007 when Israel bombed its partially-completed plutonium production reactor.
The book shows that nuclear weapons can be manufactured using reactor-grade plutonium that have the same predetonation probability, size and weight as nuclear weapons using weapon-grade plutonium. In addition to technical analysis, the book describes how Sweden and Pakistan planned to use reactor-grade plutonium for their nuclear weapons programs and how India may be planning to do so today. This work also details how the U.S. successfully tested a nuclear weapon using what was truly reactor-grade plutonium in 1962. All of this leads to the recommendation for bans on plutonium recycling in non-nuclear weapon states and on reprocessing globally. To read a full pdf of the book click here. Hard copies of the book can be purchased from Amazon.
Gregory S. Jones, “The U.S. Program to Produce Tritium Using Commercial Light Water Power Reactors: An Update,” February 7, 2018. The U.S. is moving ahead with efforts to increase tritium production. However, unspecified problems are limiting tritium production at Watts Bar 1, which may be causing shortages in the U.S. nuclear weapon program. As a result, plans to start tritium production at Watts Bar 2 are being ramped up. The recently released Nuclear Posture Review has emphasized the critical importance of increasing tritium production. To read a pdf of the full paper click here
Gregory S. Jones, “A History of India’s Heavy Water Production,” January 9, 2018. Despite numerous misleading and false statements by India’s Department of Atomic Energy, a careful reading of the available documents allows some important conclusions to be drawn regarding India’s heavy water production program. More recent information reinforces the analysis from the 1980s showing that India illicitly acquired substantial quantities of heavy water. Also, it is now clear that there is a serious downside to India’s current heavy water self-sufficiency—namely overproduction. India’s current stockpile of excess heavy water is over 4,000 metric tons and will increase to over 5,000 metric tons by 2020. The carrying charge for this material could increase the cost of the heavy water by 50% to 100%. To read a pdf of the full paper click here
Gregory S. Jones, “North Korea’s Sixth Nuclear Test: Was It a Hydrogen Bomb?” September 18, 2017. North Korea’s sixth nuclear test had a yield significantly higher than its previous nuclear tests. However, the test was probably not that of a full yield hydrogen bomb. More likely possibilities are either a pure fission device or a device related to the development of a hydrogen bomb. Whatever type of device was tested is likely too large and heavy to be carried on North Korea’s ICBM. A more reasonable possibility for an ICBM warhead is a small, lightweight pure fission weapon with a yield of 10 to 30 kilotons. To read a pdf of the full paper click here
Gregory S. Jones, “The Role of Boosting in Nuclear Weapons Programs,” July 25, 2017. Boosting is not an intermediate technology on the road to two-stage thermonuclear weapons. Four of the five countries that possess two-stage thermonuclear weapons have developed and/or deployed these weapons before boosted weapons. In countries that have not developed two-stage thermonuclear weapons, stand-alone boosted weapons may be used to provide small, light weapons that use reduced amounts of nuclear material. To read a pdf of the full paper click here
Gregory S. Jones, “History of U.S. Production of Tritium 1948-1988,” June 12, 2017. This history demonstrates that though the U.S. tested its first boosted nuclear weapon in 1951, it did not quickly decide to deploy such weapons which the U.S. did not produce until 1957. The history also shows that at the peak of the U.S. nuclear stockpile in the 1960s, the U.S. tritium stockpile was roughly 100 kilograms. To produce tritium the U.S. initially used natural lithium but later used lithium enriched up to 50%. To read a pdf of the full paper click here
Gregory S. Jones, “The Iran Nuclear Deal One Year Later, Constraints on Iran’s Nuclear Program Have Eroded Significantly,” January 17, 2017. The Iran Nuclear Deal’s restrictions on Iran’s enrichment and reprocessing capabilities have eroded significantly. Iran has twice violated the restriction on the size of its heavy water stockpile. The Deal has cut off access to critical information on almost all aspects of Iran’s nuclear program, making it impossible to determine whether Iran’s current breakout time meets the Deal’s one year goal. To read a pdf of the full paper click here
Gregory S. Jones, “U.S. Increased Tritium Production Driven by Plan to Increase the Quantity of Tritium per Nuclear Weapon,” June 2, 2016. Tritium is a vital component of every U.S. nuclear weapon. The U.S. plans to significantly increase the amount of tritium per weapon. This change is intended to reduce the frequency with which the tritium reservoirs in the weapons are replaced and to help ensure weapon reliability in an era where there is no nuclear testing. I have estimated that the average amount of tritium per weapon will increase by about 50% from about 3.2 grams to roughly 4.5 to 5.0 grams. Tritium production will need to rise significantly and will require the use of a second commercial nuclear power reactor. To read a pdf of the full paper click here
Gregory S. Jones, “Iran’s Bushehr Nuclear Power Reactor: A Potential Source of Plutonium for Nuclear Weapons,” March 24, 2016. The nuclear deal with Iran virtually ignored Iran’s Bushehr reactor even though it produces about 240 kilograms of plutonium per year. The first discharge fuel from the reactor contained 92 kilograms of fuel-grade plutonium which can be used to produce powerful nuclear weapons. The Iran nuclear deal contains no requirement that this plutonium be exported. By withdrawing fuel early from this reactor for purported safety reasons, Iran can produce additional quantities of fuel-grade or even weapons-grade plutonium whenever it wants. Policy makers need to take a more realistic view of the proliferation dangers of reactors such as Bushehr. To read a pdf of the full paper click here
Gregory S. Jones, “Heavy Water Nuclear Power Reactors: A Source of Tritium for Potential South Korean Boosted Fission Weapons,” February 29, 2016. South Korea has accumulated an unsafeguarded stockpile of over four kilograms of tritium extracted from its heavy water moderated nuclear power plants. If South Korea should give in to calls for it to develop nuclear weapons, the tritium could be used to boost any nuclear weapon that South Korea produces. To read a pdf of the full paper click here
Gregory S. Jones, "The Implications of North Korea Testing a Boosted Nuclear Weapon,” January 11, 2016. North Korea may have tested a boosted fission weapon on January 6, 2016. If so North Korea can now manufacture small light-weight nuclear weapons with reduced fissile material content, without sacrificing yield. These weapons could allow North Korea to easily equip its ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads and to rapidly expand its nuclear arsenal. The continued diffusion of boosting technology could make such weapons the norm for all countries seeking to acquire nuclear weapons. To read a pdf of the full paper click here
Gregory S. Jones, “Fissile Material Conversion Times, Wastage and Significant Quantities: Lessons from the Manhattan Project,” December 16, 2015. The experience of the Manhattan Project demonstrates that the time required to produce the fissile material metal core for a nuclear weapon starting from uranium hexafluoride or plutonium nitrate is only about one week. The wastage in this process is no more than 3% to 6%. Even for the simple Nagasaki weapon design, the IAEA estimates of “significant quantities” are too high. To read a pdf of the paper click here
Gregory S. Jones, “The Iran Nuclear Deal: The End of Nonproliferation?,” November 2, 2015. Enrichment and reprocessing are the key technologies required to produce the nuclear material for nuclear weapons. Given that the Iran nuclear deal grants Iran the right to possess unrestricted enrichment and reprocessing in the long-term, it is going to be difficult for the U.S. to pursue a coherent nonproliferation policy. To read a pdf of the full paper click here
Gregory S. Jones, “Distorting Intelligence to Sell the Iran Nuclear Deal,” October 8, 2015. To try to justify the Iran nuclear deal the Obama Administration has completely reversed its estimate of when the Iran nuclear program, absent the deal, might be able to produce a nuclear weapon. That the Administration has felt it necessary to do so highlights the weakness of the deal, which buys little at the expense of seriously damaging overall U.S. nonproliferation policy. To read a pdf of the full paper click here
Gregory S. Jones, “The Arak Reactor and the Iran Nuclear Deal’s Prohibition on the Production of Weapons-Grade Plutonium,” September 3, 2015. One of the more puzzling terms of the JCPOA requires the Arak reactor “not to produce weapon-grade plutonium in normal operation.” Since the U.S. revealed almost forty years ago that even reactor-grade plutonium, let alone the fuel-grade plutonium that will be produced by the Arak reactor, can be used to manufacture nuclear weapons this constraint has little significance with respect to Iran’s capability to develop a nuclear weapon. However, President Obama has been seriously misinformed and has incorrectly stated that only weapons-grade plutonium can be used to produce nuclear weapons. The President’s erroneous statements should be corrected since they threaten to undermine broader U.S. nonproliferation policy to restrict plutonium stockpiles in non-nuclear weapon countries. Regarding the Iran nuclear deal itself, since the Arak reactor will be permitted to produce significant quantities of fuel-grade plutonium, the Administration should admit that the deal does not block Iran’s plutonium pathway to a nuclear weapon. To read a pdf of the paper click here
Gregory S. Jones, “An Iran Nuclear Deal That Spreads Nuclear Weapons,” August 10, 2015. The original goal of a nuclear deal with Iran was to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons. This summer President Obama has claimed the deal does just that. However, most analysts agree that the current deal is simply a short-term delaying tactic—a view held by President Obama himself just last April. My analysis finds that the deal does little to delay Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons compared to the case where there is no deal. What is worse, the deal eases Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon by removing the sanctions that have considerably increased the costs of Iran’s nuclear weapon program. Additionally, the deal, by legitimizing centrifuge enrichment, heavy water production and the Arak reactor, greatly undermines U.S. nonproliferation policy, increasing the likelihood of the spread of nuclear weapons to other countries. Congress should reject the Iran nuclear deal. To read a pdf of the full paper click here