Thinking About Nuclear Weapons: Analyses and Prescriptions

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Radioactivity was discovered in the late s, and since then it has been the subject of many movies, cartoons, and TV shows. Some superhero favorites gained their power through exposure to radiation, including Spider-Man and the Incredible Hulk. Nuclear chemists work with various isotopic forms of elements to study fission and fusion processes, or they delve into the effects of ionizing radiation on materials, living organisms including people , and the environment. Nuclear chemists may work in laboratories, or they may do theoretical work—and often, they do some of both. Nuclear chemists may work in academic or government laboratories doing basic, applied, or theoretical research.

They may also work in private industry, at nuclear power plants, or in medical facilities that offer radiation treatments and medical imaging. Technicians in this field monitor equipment, measure radiation levels, and collect samples for environmental testing. Laboratory technicians usually require a bachelor's degree in chemistry, biology, geology, physics, or a related field.

Employers typically provide significant job-specific training in laboratory procedures and dealing with specific workplace hazards. In addition to an undergraduate degree in chemistry, research positions in nuclear chemistry usually require a graduate degree in chemistry as well. Research positions generally require a Ph. A doctoral degree and several years of postdoctoral experience are generally required for teaching positions at the university level.

Nuclear chemists working in laboratories must take safety training to prepare for working with radioactive materials. They wear one or more radiation dosimetry devices in the laboratory and must submit these devices for periodic checks to ensure that they have not been exposed to various forms of radiation beyond federally established standards.

Nuclear chemists working at government agencies or national laboratories may be required to undergo background checks or obtain security clearances on the basis of the nature of the work and the security requirements of the laboratory. Nuclear chemists often work in laboratories, and they may be responsible for operating, maintaining, and repairing state-of-the-art instrumentation.

They are also responsible for maintaining sample preparation supplies and equipment and ensuring the safe use and disposal of samples and other materials used in the lab. Responsibilities may include training students and other users of the laboratory facilities and ensuring that they adhere to safety procedures, including the use, monitoring, and disposal of radioactive materials. Because nuclear chemistry is a very computation-intensive specialization, researchers in this field must be able to use, and train others to use, data collection and analysis methods, software packages, and computer imaging visualization capabilities.

Nuclear chemists in academic environments often teach advanced chemistry and laboratory courses.

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At national laboratories, nuclear chemists train visiting users, and they perform their own research and maintain instruments and laboratory areas. Nuclear chemists often make presentations at conferences, and they may travel to specialized facilities to run experiments. Some international travel may be required. Although computer hardware and software have evolved to the point where they perform much of the computation, a nuclear chemist must understand the underlying principles to set up the calculations and ensure that the results are meaningful and properly interpreted.

Nuclear research requires patience and attention to detail. Nuclear chemists may collaborate with physicists, engineers, physicians, biologists, and mathematicians. Often, they have some degree of expertise across several disciplines and work with international teams on research projects. People with strong backgrounds in nuclear chemistry may have job titles that reflect their specific areas of application—for example, medical researcher or materials engineer.

Experimental nuclear chemists must be meticulous about handling and disposing of radioactive materials, and they must ensure that students and laboratory users adhere to established safety standards. They may be required to administer the distribution and monitoring of personal dosimetry devices in their laboratories. Graduates with bachelor's degrees can find employment as laboratory technicians or research assistants. It is common for bachelor's-level graduates to receive on-the-job training after discovering an interest in nuclear chemistry during their early years on the job.

Students or recent graduates with an interest in research may do one or more internships in preparation for selecting an area of specialization for a graduate degree. Research and supervisory positions generally require a doctoral degree, often with postgraduate experience.

Postdoctoral fellowships are one way to gain this experience. They may also support and train facility users or students or develop new capabilities for collecting and analyzing data. After gaining several years of postgraduate experience, nuclear chemists may move into managing a suite of laboratories, or they may direct research programs. A report by the National Academy of Sciences states that the number of students opting to specialize in nuclear and radiochemistry has decreased significantly over the past few decades although these numbers are beginning to increase again , and many current experts are expected to retire during the next 5 to 10 years.

For instance, software is widely available for the launcher design, trajectory, simulation, and guidance—all of which can be used for work on nuclear weapons delivery. In some areas, though, there are technical standards uniquely required for nuclear weapon system integration and delivery. It seems possible to identify requirements imposed by genuine space launch and related programs that would be missing if the SLV activity is merely intended as cover for a ballistic missile program.

These would relate both to the overall scope of the program—for example, an array of satellite receiving stations, without which space activity looks unreasonable—and to its footprint and associated transparency. Civil space programs would also reasonably entail, for example, expectations regarding reliability, commercial aspects, and insurance arrangements. Visible indicators of nuclear weapons orientation in seven key areas of delivery vehicle development include the following certain technical specifications are deliberately withheld :.

The militarization of nuclear activity comprises steps intended to induct nuclear weapons for use by armed forces or to make them militarily useful. In this context, the firewall project considered four major questions:. Upon looking closely at possible indicators of nuclear militarization activities, it became evident that while such individual indicators are not easy to detect and are somewhat ambiguous, they nevertheless have significant contextual diagnostic value.

This is in part because they may indicate a purpose that goes beyond a latent and even hedging nuclear posture and in part because they are compelling as evidence of concrete intent and a timeline. Naturally, these indicators are especially potent when several are evident and when combined with activities of concern in other domains pertinent to the development of a nuclear weapon capability.

Consequently, we concluded that militarization indicators should indeed be incorporated into the firewall, along with other contextual factors to help amplify their utility. Given that some or all of the militarization functions might be performed in some countries by quasi-military or paramilitary organizations, the indicators mentioned below refer to any state organs performing the relevant military functions. Possible indicators of militarization include, but are not limited to, the following certain details are deliberately withheld :. The above listed indicators may vary widely in terms of visibility and in their timeframe relative to nuclear weapons development.

But they all are potentially suggestive of a nuclear weapons orientation. Furthermore, the visibility of some of these measures may be greater than intuitively thought, precisely because they involve detection of anomalies in the routine practices common to all other missile and military SLV activity. The logic underlying this conclusion is that a nuclear weapons program is much more than just the production of fissile material and weapons system manufacture and integration.

Nuclear weapons – Contemporary Security Policy

The development, deployment, and maintenance of fully engineered weapons that are incorporated into the armed forces of a state require considerable resources human and financial and a whole host of other activities. In particular, these include the organizational and bureaucratic structures needed to build and then sustain any real operational capability, the training of personnel on equipment and procedures, and the development and maintenance of a supporting infrastructure.

Operational capabilities take time to develop and mature. If not constantly sustained, they will quickly atrophy. Furthermore, a historical review of several cases of nuclear militarization suggest that such activities have often started several years before a nuclear weapon capability was actually attained, in order to have an operational military capability ready when the technical preparations mature. Thus, they are doubly useful as warning indicators.

Nuclear Chemistry

This multidimensional process involves multiple activities running at various speeds and levels from experimental to in-service. Some run continuously, others on a stop-go basis, and yet others episodically.


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Finally, the relevance of this category of indicators has not diminished over time. While considerable variation occurs in the way various nuclear weapon states and aspirants approach the militarization challenge, they all basically aim to address a core set of requirements and dilemmas necessary to acquire and maintain an operational capability.

Many nuclear technologies—as well as other technologies required to produce nuclear weapons—are recognized to have dual uses. They may be used for peaceful nuclear applications, for military applications other than nuclear weapons from naval propulsion and shaped charges to depleted uranium shells , for various commercial applications such as oil drilling , and even for basic science. Combining the aggregated presence and absence of key activities and technologies yields a compelling picture regarding the overall orientation of a state regarding nuclear weapons aspiration.

This helps in interpreting particular technical and operational indicators that by themselves may yield an ambiguous or inconclusive assessment of proliferation risk. The contextual factors are akin to a checklist. The greater the number and diversity of the alarming boxes checked, the higher the level of concern it ought to trigger, and vice versa. Four important considerations went into the development of the lists of contextual factors.

First, the factors should have diagnostic utility and be objective; expert analysts from a range of states need to agree on their merit regardless of which state is being analyzed. Second, the factors should be parsimonious yet add to the robustness of the analysis to help defuse concerns that a state seeking nuclear weapons could not easily game the firewall by avoiding designated indicators and still succeed in producing a nuclear weapon.

Third, the factors should be evaluated with relative ease and reliability. They should be easy to monitor and assess so that no massive clandestine intelligence collection effort would be required to use them for a proliferation analysis.

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