Fusion and proliferation

Published : Jan 27, 2006 00:00 IST

RESEARCH in pure fusion should actually have no proliferation concerns because nuclear fission is essential for all nuclear weapons. Even fusion or thermonuclear weapons (the so-called H-bombs) need fission as the triggering first stage to produce the high temperatures required to initiate (deuterium-tritium) fusion. So appropriate safeguards on fissile material are sufficient to prevent proliferation. In fact, there are no safeguards on fusion materials such as deuterium and tritium at all in the IAEA safeguards regime.

Notwithstanding this, proliferation concerns about ITER continue to be raised by some Western commentators. Their basic argument is that, by gaining access to ITER technology, a member has total access to tritium production technology. Since tritium is used both in thermonuclear weapons and to boost the yield of fission weapons, it is held that ITER is not free from proliferation risks. The point that is lost here is that without enriched fissile material, neither thermonuclear nor boosted-fission weapons can work. So, preventing access to fissile material alone suffices to ensure non-proliferation. This indeed is the logic for having no IAEA safeguards on heavy water or deuterium and tritium.

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