Difficulties in Determining if Nuclear Training of Foreigners Contributes to Weapons Proliferation

ID-79-2: Published: Apr 23, 1979. Publicly Released: May 8, 1979.

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The contribution of U.S. nuclear training of foreigners to the spread of nuclear weapons cannot be accurately estimated. There is no way to ascertain the true intentions of the foreign national being trained or the motivations of their countries. Neither the database nor the analytical methods have been developed to effectively evaluate the proliferation risks involved; however, a number of issues warrant further government attention.

The training of aliens in nuclear engineering and related fields at U.S. Government facilities was at its height in the early 1960's. Several thousand foreigners were trained but received only unclassified information. The government curtailed its nuclear training in 1965, because similar courses were being offered by colleges and universities and it was U.S. policy not to provide training that was available in the private sector. At three U.S. national laboratories, a few dozen foreigners had been involved in unclassified research related to uranium reprocessing or enrichment. Over 3,000 courses in nuclear science and engineering are offered by 190 U.S. colleges and universities. Universities only offer unclassified courses and use published textbooks but some courses could provide the base which might contribute to a nuclear weapons capability. Foreign participation in the nuclear science and engineering curriculum appear to be subtantial and growing. Training is also provided by the U.S. nuclear industry through formal instructions related to equipment sales, licensing, and technical exchange agreements. U.S. policy has been to encourage the dissemination of scientific and technical atomic energy information without endangering national security. A balance must be struck between protecting information that has significant weapons proliferation implications and providing maximum assistance to the development of peaceful nuclear applications.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy in conjunction with the Secretary of State, the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency should: (1) clarify what specific data or particular types of information are to be subject to the sensitive nuclear technology export criteria established in legislation and how such criteria apply to foreign participation in education, training, and research in the United States; (2) consider discontinuing further distribution of U.S. Government publications which could provide substantial assistance to anyone seeking nuclear explosive capability; (3) review the nature of nuclear training programs to be conducted at government-owned contractor-operated facilities and the need for the U.S. Government to provide nuclear training programs for foreign nationals; (4) determine if areas of unclassified nuclear research at government-owned research facilities can be reasonably held to be of significant proliferation concern and, where appropriate limit foreign participation; and (5) consider the desirability of giving preference to individuals from countries adhering to the Non-Proliferation Treaty when approving alien participation on government supported nuclear research.

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