1 May 2011

Inertial confinement fusion energy R&D and nuclear proliferation: The need for direct and transparent review

Alexander Glaser

A member of the Bulletin's Science and Security Board, Glaser is assistant professor at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affaris and in the Department of Mechanical...


Robert J. Goldston

Robert J. Goldston is a professor of Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton University. He was the director of the US Energy Department’s Princeton Plasma Physics...

Proliferation concerns have generally been associated with the acquisition of the fissile material needed for nuclear weapons; however, the spread of the knowledge needed to build very light and powerful weapons that can be carried long distances by missiles is also a serious concern. Such knowledge could accelerate and destabilize regional arms races, and lead to the deployment of powerful weapons able to target the US and its allies. Classified weapons-related information has previously spread through the international effort to harness inertial confinement fusion. Success in achieving net fusion gain in the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory could lead to greatly increased R&D in inertial confinement fusion worldwide, along with increased proliferation risks. The authors write that these issues have not yet been adequately addressed and require direct and transparent examination so that means to mitigate risks can be assessed and residual risks can be balanced against potential benefits.