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Nuclear Materials for Military Production

Nuclear materials are key components of nuclear weapons. Plutonium and highly enriched uranium are used to release destructive energy by fissionning and tritium boosts the yield of thermo-nuclear devices. These materials are not found in nature and need to be produced in dedicated, highly advanced production facilities such as nuclear reactors or enrichment plants. By collecting various types of data such as satellite imagery, record on facility operation, and technical data on design, it is possible to model the operation of these facilities and estimate nuclear materials production ouput. These estimates improve  assessments on the current nuclear materials stockpiles for military applications in various countries. They also enable to better understand the proliferation risks of dual-use production facilities.

Projects

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North Korea has been using its graphite-moderated, gas-cooled 5-MWe reactor to produce plutonium for its nuclear weapons since 1986. In this project, past satellite imagery, records on operation, and collected design parameters are used to model the reactor past and current plutonium production with the open-source software ONIX. New estimates on plutonium production and stockpiles have been obtained.

Plutonium Production in North Korea's 5-MWe Reactor

Collaborators on this project: Moritz Kütt

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Since the early 60s, Israel has used its Dimona reactor to produce plutonium for its nuclear arsenal. It is suspected that the country started using the reactor sometimes in the 70s to produce tritium for its thermo-nuclear devices and that this production continues as of today. In this project, ONIX is used to model production in the reactor for various operation scenarios. Reactor modelling with ONIX also enables to better understand how Israel modified the reactor to produce tritium. 

Plutonium &Tritium Production in Israel's Dimona Reactor

Collaborators on this project: Alexander Glaser

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China is constructing two fast-breeder reactors (called CFR-600) which are supposed to be completed in 2023 and 2026. These civilian reactors are designed to produce more plutonium than conventional reactors which can then be used to re-fuel the reactor (thus closing the fuel cycle). This project uses reactor modelling with ONIX to understand the technical feasibility for China to divert its CFR-600 reactors to produce weapon-grade plutonium for its nuclear arsenal.

Plutonium Production in China's New Fast Breeder Reactors

Collaborators on this project: Zhang Hui

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