China pushes ahead on nukes

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As we watch North Korean and Iranian nuclear weapons potential with serious interest, we should not neglect the expansion of China's existing nuclear weapons potential.

Any uranium fired reactor will produce various byproducts including isotopes of plutonium as the uranium is 'burned'.  The plutonium can then be chemically extracted to obtain the desired weapons grade isotope.  Since China already has had the bomb for decades and a whole host of delivery systems, this does not present a proliferation threat per se.  What I find interesting is that the Chinese find it necessary to squeeze out every bit of potential from their available supply of uranium.  Is this supply dwindling; or do they anticipate a uranium shortage?  Is somebody applying pressure by restricting supplies?  For example, uranium is located all over the world but the largest deposits are in two major regions: Africa (Congo, Gabon, Namibia) and, sorry to say, France.  Useful production share is quite a different matter.  Data from the late 90s show the following for uranium production:

Country or Area                     Uranium Production (%)
Canada                                     34
Africa                                        21
CIS (FSU)                                15
Australia                                    14
USA                                           7
Western Europe                          4
Eastern Europe                            3
Asia                                            2

Total                                        100

Note that the USA has over three times the production share of uranium than all of Asia combined outside of the Former Soviet Union.  China may see a supply crunch down the road, and is therefore developing a technological solution to increase the efficiency of available nuclear fuel.

Brian Schwarz  contributed the first paragraph; Douglas Hanson contributed the rest.   10 06 05

As we watch North Korean and Iranian nuclear weapons potential with serious interest, we should not neglect the expansion of China's existing nuclear weapons potential.

Any uranium fired reactor will produce various byproducts including isotopes of plutonium as the uranium is 'burned'.  The plutonium can then be chemically extracted to obtain the desired weapons grade isotope.  Since China already has had the bomb for decades and a whole host of delivery systems, this does not present a proliferation threat per se.  What I find interesting is that the Chinese find it necessary to squeeze out every bit of potential from their available supply of uranium.  Is this supply dwindling; or do they anticipate a uranium shortage?  Is somebody applying pressure by restricting supplies?  For example, uranium is located all over the world but the largest deposits are in two major regions: Africa (Congo, Gabon, Namibia) and, sorry to say, France.  Useful production share is quite a different matter.  Data from the late 90s show the following for uranium production:

Country or Area                     Uranium Production (%)
Canada                                     34
Africa                                        21
CIS (FSU)                                15
Australia                                    14
USA                                           7
Western Europe                          4
Eastern Europe                            3
Asia                                            2

Total                                        100

Note that the USA has over three times the production share of uranium than all of Asia combined outside of the Former Soviet Union.  China may see a supply crunch down the road, and is therefore developing a technological solution to increase the efficiency of available nuclear fuel.

Brian Schwarz  contributed the first paragraph; Douglas Hanson contributed the rest.   10 06 05