The Bomb for Beginners: A DIY Guide to Going Nuclear

Building a nuclear weapon has never been easier. NATO's Michael Rühle provides step-by-step instructions for going nuclear, from discretely collecting material to minimizing the fallout when caught. These simple steps have worked for the likes of Israel, Pakistan or North Korea, and your country could be next.

Iran is just one of many countries seeking to develop a nuclear weapon. After all, it's the only way to get your neighbors to treat you with respect. Zoom
AP/ Iranian Presidents Office

Iran is just one of many countries seeking to develop a nuclear weapon. After all, it's the only way to get your neighbors to treat you with respect.

Tired of being bossed around? Want your neighbors to treat you with more respect? Want to play in the majors? If so, you have to have your own nukes.

Impossible? Not really. Granted, if your country is a signatory of the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), as most countries are, the constraints on your bomb building are considerable. Inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are difficult to circumvent. And the IAEA can no longer be fooled as easily as in the 1980s, when it failed to uncover Saddam Hussein's military nuclear program in Iraq despite regular inspections.

The IAEA's increased awareness means that you have to be imaginative. Here are some steps to consider.

First, begin developing a civilian nuclear program. Under the NPT, you are not only entitled to a civilian nuclear program, you may even ask for help from the IAEA. The IAEA will provide you with the basic ingredients and much of the know-how for a military program. Moreover, you can legally buy reactor fuel, and thus do not have to acquire it by performing hair-raising stunts like those the Israelis pulled in 1968, when they had to hijack a ship carrying uranium after France stopped its supplies.

As you start building your civilian nuclear infrastructure, which should include nuclear plants to produce plutonium and/or uranium and appropriate nuclear research facilities, aim for the full fuel cycle: mining, milling, conversion, enrichment. This allows you the greatest possible independence -- which you may need later, once you are caught or go public. And let there be no mistake: You will get caught.

But the notion of getting caught need not concern you at this stage. You will need to build research and nuclear enrichment facilities at several sites. Some will be publicly declared sites, i.e. they can be inspected by the IAEA. Other facilities, however, will remain secret, preferably underground or in mountainous areas (you did not forget to buy advanced drilling equipment, did you?). It is within these military facilities that enrichment of reactor-grade uranium to weapons-grade levels, as well as plutonium reprocessing will take place. If you are not too concerned about raising international suspicions, you can be so bold as to invest in other nuclear activities as well, such as nuclear submarine propulsion. Dubious? Yes. Illegal? No -- ask the Brazilians.

Getting Off the Ground

In order to run your secret military program, you need to buy a lot of stuff. Try to be discreet. Once you have raised suspicions, you will be put under international surveillance, and buying critical components will become much harder. Make sure you buy nuclear components from several sources so that you have backups in case one seller drops out. You will be less visible if you use intermediaries to buy certain things for you. In some cases, you may have to buy and then reverse engineer certain technologies. Others have done it in the past, so can you. Intrigued? Ask the Pakistanis.

Too bad A. Q. Khan, the father of all nuclear smugglers, is no longer in business. He could have supplied you with everything you need to give the United States the finger: from centrifuges all the way to warhead designs. With Khan's help, Libya almost made it into the nuclear club. But along came the Bush administration and shut down the Khan franchise. As a consequence, buying all the necessary items will now take longer and will probably cost you more; but, with enough patience and money, you will still be able to get what you need. North Korea will help you, just as they offered to help Iran and Syria. You need nukes; they need hard currency -- a match made in heaven.

If this direct approach is too risky for you, do not despair. Instead, help fund the nuclear program of another would-be nuclear power. In return, you may receive certain nuclear components -- or even warheads -- when you deem that the time has come for them to return the favor. For confirmation, ask the Saudis why they used to finance A. Q. Khan's laboratories.

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