For nuclear explosions,

"All Plutonium
is Good Plutonium"

verbatim excerpts from
the Sandia National Laboratories Publication

Proliferation Vulnerability
Red Team Report

SAND 97-8203

Printed October 1996

The Authors:

Sandia National Laboratory:
J.P. Hinton, G.A. Harms,
R.W. Barnard, L.W. Kruse,
D.E. Bennett, J.A. Milloy,
R.W. Crocker, W.A. Swansiger,
M.J. Davis, K.J. Ystesund.
Savannah River Site:
H.J. Groh
Los Alamos National Laboratory:
E.A. Hakkila, W.L. Hawkins
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory:
E.E. Hill


Introduction: Security Risks

Stealing Plutonium for Bombs

How Difficult Would It Be?



Sandia was chartered by DOE's Office of Fissile Materials Disposition (DOE/MD) to lead a four-month independent technical assessment of potential proliferation resistance issues associated with the plutonium disposition alternatives under evaluation within the Fissile Materials Disposition Program (FMDP).

Proliferation vulnerabilities are features of lower proliferation resistance that provide the greatest opportunities for illicit removal and recovery of plutonium for use in nuclear weapons, thereby reducing the effectiveness of the disposition process.

The objective of the Proliferation Vulnerability Red Team (PVRT) assessment was to identify such features of greatest significance. This report summarizes the assessments and findings....

4.1.2 Utility of Reactor Grade Plutonium
        in Nuclear Explosive Devices

The single summary statement about the utility of plutonium from the disposition program and its potential for use in nuclear explosive devices is: "All plutonium is good plutonium; some is better than other."

The weapons grade materials, and materials with isotopic composition not much different from weapons grade, are clearly directly weapons-usable once processed into the right chemical and physical forms.  [ This includes any fresh MOX fuel made from weapons-grade plutonium. ]

The remaining question involves "reactor-grade" plutonium. The isotopic composition of these materials can range from 8 to 10 percent plutonium-240 up to more than 40 percent plutonium-240, 241, et cetera.  [ This includes any irradiated MOX fuel. ]

The Department of Energy has issued a press release acknowledging that the United States has successfully tested a nuclear device using reactor grade plutonium, and that the device produced a yield of less than 20 kilotons....

In response to a question of why weapons-grade plutonium is better than reactor-grade plutonium, the release states: "Reactor-grade plutonium is significantly more radioactive, which complicates its use in nuclear weapons."

The principal complications arising from plutonium isotopes other than plutonium-239 are

These two weapon design issues affect utility depending on the scenario under consideration....

Therefore, the physics design issues could have greatly different impacts, depending on the "proliferant" and their desired goals....

In summary, all plutonium that could be stolen or recovered from any of the various segments of the disposition program are readily weapons usable and could be used under any of the scenarios discussed for nuclear weapons or nuclear explosive device fabrication. Again, all plutonium is good plutonium, with some better (and posing fewer technical difficulties) than other plutonium.

4.1.3. Utility Conclusions

6. Conclusions

[ Reactor Grade Plutonium Bomb Test ]

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