Anatomy of a Project to Produce a First Nuclear Weapon

Robert Harney, Gerald Brown, Matthew Carlyle, Eric Skroch, Kevin Wood, "Anatomy of a Project to Produce a First Nuclear Weapon," Science & Global Security, 14, no. 2-3, (2006): 163-182.
We describe the industrial project that a "proliferator" would conduct to produce a first, small batch of nuclear weapons. From refining yellowcake ore to final weapons assembly, we highlight the project's tasks and their interactions. The proliferator can choose alternative production technologies that offer quicker completion, but at higher cost in terms of limited resources. The proliferator can also expedite his project by devoting more resources to critical tasks. From physics and chemistry, we determine raw material requirements. From industrial engineering and materials science, we convert these requirements into estimates of the time, manpower, energy, and money required to complete each task under normal and expedited conditions. Using generalized project-management analysis tools, we then estimate the earliest possible completion time of the project, assuming two different levels of resource availability. We also estimate the time required to complete a weapon if some of the project's steps can be skipped; for example, if the proliferator acquires stolen, highly enriched uranium metal.

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