Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Now For Some Good News

The United States and Russia have requested the International Atomic Energy Agency to safeguard some of the plutonium they are taking out of their nuclear weapons.

This is a good thing in the immediate sense that there should be international oversight of that material and in the larger sense that the United States and Russia are opening up weapon-related stuff to inspection.

Back in the nineties, when my group was developing cans for that plutonium, there was some resistance to inspection. The reasoning was that if the inspectors knew how many warheads were going into a decommissioning plant and how much plutonium was coming out, they could figure out how much plutonium was in a warhead. And no way could that be allowed. We suggested ways to get around it, like mixing up combinations of weapons decommissioned rather than doing campaigns of one type of weapon only, but they weren't heard.

So perhaps the Department of Energy is recognizing that plenty of people have figured out how much plutonium a weapon needs and that they needn't be so obsessive about any possibility that someone might use their numbers to do that.

But I won't be surprised if the negotiations leading to the specifics of inspection turn out to be very, very difficult.

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