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Nuclear Weapons Latency

Nuclear Weapons Latency is defined as the effective time for a non-nuclear weapon state to develop a conventionally deliverable nuclear weapon capability, given its position on a path toward or away from a nuclear weapon. Embedded in the effective latent time will be quantifications of a state's motivations and willingness to expend its resources to obtain a nuclear weapon. It is the goal of this project to develop a quantitative tool that can predict a state's nuclear weapons latency. In addition to a state's motivations, the tool will take into account the current level of technology and the resources available to the nascent nuclear state. The tool will model all possible pathways to a nuclear weapon. In addition, the tool will simulate state decisions between the various pathways based on the state's circumstances. Based on the simulated pathway decisions and the calculated time necessary to pursue a nuclear weapon through the chosen path(s), a time estimate of the latent period will be produced. Development of the latency tool will incorporate case studies of all known nuclear weapons programs, both successful and unsuccessful, for verification and validation of the tool. It is expected that with a proven method for quantifying latency, safeguarding institutions such as the IAEA will be able to better allocate their resources to meet current and emerging challenges. Furthermore, the tool will be able to pinpoint which decisions, acquisitions, and existing capabilities are most critical to reducing the latent period of the nascent state. It is intended that knowledge of such critical steps can facilitate the formulation of policy directed to lengthening a state's latent period and reducing its nuclear threat.

A clear conception of nuclear weapons latency becomes particularly vital in a world moving toward zero nuclear weapons and absolutely critical in world free of nuclear weapons. Clearly, any state that previously maintained a robust nuclear deterrent would have a very high degree of latency and breakout potential. Nuclear weapons policy in a world free of nuclear weapons would demand that the former nuclear weapons states verifiably demonstrate that they are as far down the path away from nuclear weapon as possible. As described above the latency tool being developed would identify which pieces are most critical to the nuclear weapons puzzle. Identifying the key pieces should direct verification efforts aimed at blocking possible nuclear breakouts.


  1. D.J. Sweeney and W.S. Charlton, "A Nuclear Weapons Latency Computational Tool," Journal of Nuclear Materials Management Accepted for publication.
  2. D.J. Sweeney and W.S. Charlton, Nuclear Weapons Latency and Pyroprocessing Technology: Lessons and Insights into ROK ENR from a Computational Model, Beyond Acrimony: The Future of US-ROK Nuclear Cooperation. Ed. M.S. Yim, A. Stulberg, in press.
  3. D.J. Sweeney and W.S. Charlton, "Simulating State Proliferation for Nuclear Weapons Latency," INMM 54th Annual Meeting, 14-18 July 2013, Palm Desert, California, USA.
  4. D.J. Sweeney and W.S. Charlton, "Nuclear Weapons Proliferation Pathway Utility Attribute Weighting Survey," 53rd Annual Meeting of the Institute of Nuclear Materials Management, Orlando, Florida, 15-19 July 2012.
  5. D.J. Sweeney, W.S. Charlton. , "Proliferation Pathway Decision Analysis for Nuclear Weapons Latency," Proceedings of the INMM 52nd Annual Meeting, Palm Desert, CA, July 17-21, 2011.
  6. D.J. Sweeney and W.S. Charlton, "Latency as a Basis for Safeguards," Transactions of the 2009 American Nuclear Society Winter Meeting, Washington, D.C., November 15-19, 2009.
  7. D. Sweeney, J. Slanker, W.S. Charlton, and R. Juzaitis, "Quantifying Nuclear Weapons Latency," Proceedings of the 2009 Annual Meeting of the Institute of Nuclear Materials Management, Tucson, AZ, July 12-15, 2009. See Document


Sample Proliferation Path
Sample Proliferation Path

Theses/Dissertations Produced:

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