Future World of Illicit Nuclear Trade: Mitigating the Threat

by David Albright, Andrea Stricker, and Houston Wood

October 1, 2013

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Executive Summary

Of the roughly two dozen countries that have pursued or obtained nuclear weapons during the last fifty years, almost all of them depended importantly on foreign supplies. As a short term projection over the next five to ten years, illicit nuclear trade is likely to be conducted by several nations seeking nuclear weapons or wanting to maintain existing nuclear weapons arsenals or capabilities. Additional states in regions of proliferation concern may utilize smuggling methods to acquire advanced, ostensibly civilian, nuclear technology including uranium enrichment and plutonium production and separation capabilities. And despite many recent, particularly United States-led, successes, stopping this trade will remain difficult. Absent mitigating actions, several existing or expected trends are projected to make it easier for smugglers to succeed in acquiring nuclear and nuclear-related goods and technology.

Future illicit trade can be stopped through measures taken today as long as the political will is there to foresee and address future threats. A range of countermeasures aimed at mitigating or eliminating these future threats must be employed today to stop them from emerging in the next five to ten years. Preventing the future world of illicit trade is imperative to U.S. and international security and to the creation of a world safer from the spread and use of nuclear weapons.

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