The makings of a nuclear program

The prerequisite for any state embarking on a nuclear weapons program is a complex base of material and people with a diverse set of skills and experience. A 1968 UN study estimates that a full-fledged nuclear weapons program requires some five hundred scientists and thirteen hundred engineers—physicists, chemists, and metallurgists; civil, military, mechanical, and electrical engineers; machine-tool operators with precision engineering experience; and instrument-makers and fabricators. The history of the nuclear age has shown that secrecy surrounds all nuclear weapons endeavors. Skilled workers of this nature are not publicly acknowledged, and their employment is often disguised. Further, the state needs to have a certain industrial base within its territory or access to one, and considerable experience in engineering, mining, and explosives. In addition, for a program to remain clandestine, sufficient foreign exchange and covert business deals with foreign partners willing to do business must generally be held as a state secret.*

* Zia Mian, “How to Build the Bomb,” in Mian ed., Pakistan’s Atomic Bomb and Search for Security (Lahore: Gautam Publishers, 1995), 135–6

Khan, Feroz Hassan. Eating Grass: The Making of the Pakistani Bomb. Stanford University Press; Stanford. 2012. p. 49

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

2 thoughts on “The makings of a nuclear program”

  1. Do you think the 1968 reference to the 500 scientists and 1300 engineers required to launch a nuclear weapons program apply today?

    If it is much less, it may be an example how technology has made something much more accessible today – but in a negative way.

  2. I don’t know how much research the 1968 book assumes to be required.

    As covered in great detail in the Wikipedia article about Los Alamos, the first bomb project had to deal with huge numbers of unknowns, from the feasibility of different designs and materials to production processes.

    Now, any aspiring bomb makers know what uranium 235 works for gun-type weapons and that both U-235 and plutonium work for implosion bombs. Some may even have access to complete bomb designs developed by other countries.

    Still, even for those with a complete design making a bomb is a major undertaking. The atomic spies at Los Alamos passed all the essential details to the Soviets, but it still took them years to reach their first bomb test. That’s covered in detail in Richard Rhodes’ The Making of the Atomic Bomb.

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