The U.S. Navy's Nuclear Proliferation Problem | LBJ School of Public Affairs | The University of Texas at Austin
Op-Ed

The U.S. Navy's Nuclear Proliferation Problem

Breaking Defense

The proliferation of weapons-grade nuclear materials has long been nightmare fuel for U.S. security professionals, and the effort to stem the flow has been ongoing for decades. In the op-ed below, Prof. Alan Kuperman argues it's up to lawmakers, and the U.S. Navy, to address a vulnerability of America’s own making.

"As the annual defense authorization and spending bills head to congressional floor votes this month, lawmakers have a chance to take the next step in the critical fight against nuclear proliferation — by pushing the U.S. Navy to change the way it powers some of its ships.

"A terrorist or rogue state with a nuclear weapon would be a national security nightmare. The most likely path to such a bomb would be for an adversary to divert or steal one of the two required nuclear explosives, plutonium or highly enriched uranium (HEU), from a non-weapons purpose like reactor fuel. That is why the U.S., for nearly 50 years, has worked to phase out global commerce in these two dangerous materials.

"But today the world's biggest remaining customer for HEU outside of weapons is the Navy, which uses it in reactors to power submarines and aircraft carriers. By contrast, civilian nuclear powerplants use low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel, which is unsuitable for weapons. The Navy reactors currently use about 100 nuclear bombs' worth of HEU each year, more than all of the world's other reactors combined."

Research Topic: 
Nuclear Nonproliferation
Foreign Affairs
Foreign Policy Decision-Making