Plutonium Production under Uranium Constraint

Erik Branger, Peter Andersson, Vitaly Fedchenko, Sophie Grape, Cecilia Gustavsson, Robert Kelley, Débora Trombetta, "Plutonium Production under Uranium Constraint," Science & Global Security 31, no. 3 (2023): 115-136

Production rates of fissile materials are often used to independently assess the number of nuclear warheads a state may possess. One key constraint of a plutonium-based nuclear weapons program is the availability of natural uranium, where a shortage of uranium will constrain plutonium production in the fuel cycle. Recycling of the reprocessed uranium can be used to mitigate such a shortage. Furthermore, since military reactors operate in short cycles to ensure that the plutonium is weapon-grade, it may be possible to operate them using slightly depleted uranium, provided that there are sufficient reactivity margins. Using slightly depleted or recycled uranium, the plutonium production can increase by a factor 2-5 as compared to a once-through scenario, for the same input of natural uranium. For future assessments of a state's plutonium production, a uranium constraint should only be considered if there is clear evidence that no nuclear fuel cycle involving uranium recycling is implemented, or if evidence exists that the recycling is insufficient to mitigate the constraint.

Article access: Taylor & Francis Online | Free PDF