The proliferation risks of plutonium mines

Edwin S. Lyman, Harold A. Feiveson, "The proliferation risks of plutonium mines," Science & Global Security, 7, no. 1, (1998): 119-128.
A number of observers have recently pointed to the risk that spent fuel repositories could eventually become relatively low-cost sources of fissile material for nuclear weapons--that is, plutonium mines. However, the range of conditions under which repository mining will look attractive compared to other means of acquiring plutonium is extremely narrow. At a minimum, mining significant quantities of plutonium will take several months and will be readily detectable if reasonable safeguards are applied at the repository sites. In any case, if spent fuel is not put into a repository, and is instead left in retrievable storage and eventually reprocessed, with the plutonium and other actinides in the spent fuel separated and transmuted, that course will itself generate significant risks of plutonium diversion or theft.

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