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Paranuclear capacity is the condition of a country possessing the technology to quickly build nuclear weapons, without having actually yet done so. Because such latent capability is not proscribed by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, this is sometimes called the "Japan Option" (as a work-around to the treaty), as Japan is a clear case of a country with complete technical prowess to develop a nuclear weapon quickly, or as it is sometimes called "being one screwdriver's turn" from the bomb, as Japan is considered to have the materials, expertise and technical capacity to make a nuclear bomb at will.
Though not absolutely necessary, having a complete nuclear fuel cycle is an important aspect of giving a state a paranuclear capability.
Technicalities of paranuclear capability
The following elements are needed for a country to construct and deploy a nuclear weapons force:
- The capability to produce, outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty's inspection regime, weapons-grade fissionable material, typically either highly-enriched (90%) uranium, or plutonium. The former, enriched in the rare isotope 235U, is typically produced in ultracentrifuge installations. The latter requires a nuclear reactor, where Pu isotopes are produced by neutron irradiation of 238U. As this irradiation also produces the spontaneously fissioning 240Pu isotope which would "poison" weapons-grade Pu, it is necessary to remove the fuel rod assemblies early and often for chemical re-processing.
- The capability to manufacture a mechanism for bringing an amount of weapons-grade fissionable material very rapidly from a state of sub-criticality to a state of strong super-criticality. Two mechanisms exist for doing this:
- The "gun mechanism" used in the (uranium based) Hiroshima bomb: the super-critical mass, a sphere, is divided into two semi-spheres which are sub-critical. One of them is shot against the other using a conventional explosive charge.
- The "implosion mechanism", where a spherical arrangement of conventional shaped charges is used to concentrate an equally spherical arrangement of pieces of fissionable material into a super-critical ball at the centre of the explosive device.
- A weapons delivery system. Typically this is nowadays a medium or long range surface-to-surface missile. Building a weapon small and light enough to fit into a missile payload remains as an additional challenge. Alternatives, such as delivery by aircraft, do not suffer from this but are too easily intercepted; for artillery shells again, the challenge of miniaturization is compounded. Covert delivery ("briefcase bomb") remains a possibility that is hard to assess reliably.
A country may be judged to possess a paranuclear capability if it has available, or is able to construct and integrate at short notice, all these resources.
Countries considered paranuclear
Another reputable case for nuclear latency is South Korea. Although South Korea's capability for nuclear weapons has not been extensively analyzed, it is quite possible that South Korea could make nuclear weapons in times of danger from North Korea. South Korea has been shown to enrich uranium to a weapon grade level and at one point was very close to developing a nuclear weapon but did not due to pressure from the United States. Many South Koreans also support the obtainment of nuclear weapons to combat the threat of the North. South Korea also possesses cruise missiles, which could serve as a delivery system up to 1500 km.
- List of states with nuclear weapons
- Nuclear energy policy
- Nuclear energy policy by country
- Nuclear power by country
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