Courtesy Reuters

More Nuclear Nations?: Nuclear Reactors: America Must Act

In 1954 the United States began, innocently enough, to share its nuclear resources with the world. Since the start of the Atoms for Peace program we have supplied nuclear technology and materials to 29 countries in an effort to extend the benefits of peaceful atomic power to all mankind. In the intervening years, other nations have developed their own nuclear capabilities, or have received assistance from U.S. licensees in other countries, such as France, or through sharing arrangements such as Euratom and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). All told today, over 500 nuclear reactors are in operation in 45 countries. By 1985, the number of operating power reactors throughout the world is expected to quadruple.

The implications for world peace and stability are momentous. Atoms intended for peace can also be used for war. A nation with a functioning nuclear reactor and a reprocessing facility can produce plutonium for the manufacture of explosive devices. Small reprocessing plants for weapons-grade plutonium can be built fairly quickly, at moderate expense, and are difficult to detect. The weapons technology is readily available, and once plutonium is acquired nuclear arms can be fabricated with relative ease. According to some estimates, by 1980 the world's nuclear reactors will have produced 300,000 to 450,000 kilograms of plutonium. As little as five or six kilograms is required to make a bomb with a destructive force of 10 to 20 kilotons of TNT, which was the size of the two bombs that devastated Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

The nuclear club, which recently counted only the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, France and China among its members, is already losing its exclusivity. The recent Indian explosion, despite its "peaceful" label, has set its doors ajar. Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Italy, South Africa, Spain and West Germany are either near, or perhaps, like Israel, already inside. Australia, Austria, Brazil, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Iran, Japan, Norway, Pakistan, Sweden, Switzerland and Taiwan have it within their technological means to enter the club in the near future.

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