A New Approach for Disposing of Nuclear Materials

Collecting hazardous materialThe United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research has recently released a report exploring a new approach for nuclear disarmament titled Watch Them Go: Simplifying the Elimination of Fissile Materials and Nuclear Weapons.

Fissile materials, such as forms of uranium and plutonium, are materials capable of sustaining a nuclear chain reaction. Excess fissile materials can be used to create nuclear weapons, and thus the disposal process for these materials is similar to the process for the weapons themselves.

The disposal of nuclear materials worldwide has its challenges, many of which are political. But since most of the excess fissile materials still exist in weapons or weapon components that are considered classified, another significant challenge identified by the authors is the need to protect sensitive information. To work around this complexity, the authors suggest an arrangement they call “Contain and Dispose.”

This approach centers around housing all materials selected for disposal in a designated containment facility before being moved for actual disposal. The materials then go through a conversion process that removes their classified attributes. After conversion, the materials can then be moved from containment to disposal without the need to protect any sensitive information.

Though many hurdles exist in achieving nuclear disarmament, this approach would at least eliminate the handling of classified information. But to be fully implemented, the authors recognize that a renewed commitment towards global nuclear disarmament would be the first step.

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