China's Civil Nuclear Sector: Plowshares to Swords?

Henry D. Sokolski
Content Type
Research Paper
Nonproliferation Policy Education Center
Although much has been said about the fusion of China’s civilian and military sectors, no detailed, unclassified analysis has been done of how Beijing’s “peaceful” nuclear efforts might be exploited to make more nuclear warheads. Even the U.S. Department of Energy’s own explanations of the export restrictions it imposed on “advanced” nuclear exports to China failed to discuss this. This volume is dedicated to clarifying just what the connection could be. Much of it focuses on China’s advanced fast breeder reactor program and its related plutonium recycling efforts. As explained in this volume’s first chapter, “How Many Nuclear Warheads China Might Acquire by 2030,” the least burdensome way for China to achieve nuclear weapons parity with the United States is simply to use the weaponsgrade plutonium that its planned “peaceful” fast breeder reactor and reprocessing programs will produce to make primaries for the two-stage thermonuclear weapons designs they already have perfected. By exploiting this weapons plutonium and the highly enriched uranium and tritium that China can easily access or make, Beijing by 2030 could conservatively assemble an arsenal of 1,270 warheads (nearly as many as the US currently has deployed on its intercontinental missiles).
Arms Control and Proliferation, Nuclear Weapons, Science and Technology, Military Affairs, Nonproliferation, Missile Defense, Denuclearization, Nuclear Energy
Political Geography
United States, China