Plutonium extraction promotes the proliferation of nuclear weapons

January 16, 2023

by Dr. Gordon Edwards, president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility

There are two kinds of proliferation of nuclear weapons – vertical proliferation, whereby a nuclear weapons state expand its nuclear arsenal or its nuclear weapons delivery capabilities, and horizontal proliferation, whereby a non-nuclear weapons state acquires a nuclear weapons capability.

In the past, Canada has contributed to both vertical proliferation by selling uranium and plutonium to the USA for weapons use and horizontal proliferation by giving India the technology needed to produce and extract plutonium for weapons use.

Canada is not in a position to contribute to vertical proliferation except in very indirect ways, and no nuclear weapon state wishing to expand its nuclear arsenal would be depending on Canada for that purpose,

However there are many non-nuclear-weapons states that have a desire to acquire a nuclear weapons capability. Canadian technology and nuclear materials could play a key role in helping them to acquire that capability.

Canada could play a very important role in horizontal proliferation by making plutonium production and its extraction that much easier.

If Canada develops nuclear reactors that depend on producing and extracting plutonium as fuel, (e.g. Moltex or ARC) and proceeds to sell those reactors to other countries around the world (as is the intention), then those countries that acquire the Canadian technology will be very much closer to building an arsenal of nuclear weapons.

By far the most difficult part of building a nuclear weapons is simply acquiring a sufficient quantity of nuclear explosive material.

Building a nuclear explosive device, once the necessary weapons-usable explosive material is available, is not nearly as difficult as people think.  The best testimony to this fact comes from men who were directly involved in building nuclear weapons themselves, such as the people who expressed their concerns in the TV program whose transcript is found here:

Giving a commercial value to plutonium as a fuel, as proponents of “small modular” nuclear reactors want to do, makes it virtually inevitable that it will fall into criminal hands.

Unlike uranium, all plutonium is weapons-usable; no “enrichment” is required as is the case with uranium.

There is a great danger in making plutonium into a commercial fuel because anything that is commercially traded will end up, to a small but significant extent, in the hands of criminals and/or terrorists. We cannot keep drugs, money, guns or diamonds out of the hands of criminals, and there is no reason to think that we can keep plutonium out of the hands of criminals either.

It is entirely credible for a subnational group to make a devastatingly powerful nuclear explosive device that could be delivered in the trunk of a car parked on a downtown city street and detonated by remote control.

In the meantime, as more states acquire nuclear weapons materials, they will also build nuclear arsenals and then any military conflict in any part of the world can turn into a nuclear war.  It is foolish to think that a country that is losing a conventional war will refuse to use the most powerful weapon in its arsenal.


The photo below by Japanese military photographer Yosuke Yamahata shows the extent of the devastation of Nagasaki, one day after the plutonium bomb was dropped on it by the United States.

Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area supports the Campaign to Ban Plutonium Reprocessing in Canada. Visit the campaign website for more information and suggestions for adding your voice to the campaign.

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