The Corner

The Path to Weaponization

A reader auditioning to be my “Nuclear Weapons Guy” writes:

I worked as a manager for 30 years in the US nuclear weapons program and have been a consultant to places like Los Alamos for the past six years.    The NIE, if correct, still is of concern.  Making nuclear weapons involves two major initiatives: designing/building the weapon and getting the nuclear material for the weapon.  The NIE appears to say that the former has been (temporarily?) suspended, while the latter is proceeding.  Getting the nuclear material for a uranium bomb is by far the most difficult and time consuming part of the problem.  The US pursued parallel programs (uranium and plutonium) in the Manhattan Project.  US physicists were so sure that the uranium bomb would work that they did not even test it before using the uranium bomb on Japan (the one we tested in southern New Mexico was the plutonium bomb).  It is likely that the physics and manufacturing challenges for the Iranians are modest at best.  (Many of the physics students in my grad school 40 years ago were Iranians that planned to return home.)  Again, the difficult job is getting sufficient enriched uranium, and that program continues to be accelerated.    So… the NIE says that the Iranians have suspended their weaponization efforts, but in the total critical path to getting a bomb, I am not sure that it matters.   (and I would like to be your “nuclear weapons guy”) 

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