Behind the Bomb: What About Plutonium Separation?

Sep 16 2015
By B. Rose Huber & Bonelys Rosado
Source Woodrow Wilson School

The Iran nuclear deal proposes limiting Iran's production of enriched uranium and plutonium – the two fissile materials used to build nuclear weapons – in exchange for the end of international oil and financial sanctions. 

So far, negotiations have primarily focused on Iran's capacity to produce enriched uranium. But the world’s stockpiles of separated plutonium has grown enormously over the decades.

Today, there is enough separated plutonium  which is extracted from highly radioative spent fuel produced by nuclear reactors  to produce 30,000 nuclear bombs, according to metrics provided by the International Atomic Energy Agency.*

In this WooCast, we discuss the process of plutonium separation  and its associated risks  with M.V. Ramana, a physicist and lecturer at Princeton University's Program on Science and Global Security, based at the Woodrow Wilson School

Ramana is part of the International Panel on Fissile Materials, an independent group of arms-control experts from 18 countries. The group recently published a report on the status of plutonium separation in nuclear power programs around the world. They are also working on issues related to the Iran nuclear deal.

The IAEA defines a "significant quantity" of fissile material to be the amount required to make a first-generation implosion bomb, including production losses. That number is 25 kilograms of uranium 235 contained in highly enriched uranium and 8 kilograms of plutonium.