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

Gao ID: ID-79-2 April 23, 1979

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.


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