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30 More States Could Opt for Nuclear Arms

A U.N. official says the countries are `hedging their bets' and would be capable of weaponizing.

October 17, 2006|From the Associated Press

VIENNA — The head of the U.N. nuclear agency warned Monday that as many as about 30 additional countries could soon have technology that would let them produce atomic weapons "in a very short time," joining the nine states known or suspected to have such arms.

Speaking at a conference on tightening controls against nuclear proliferation, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei said more nations were "hedging their bets" by developing technology that is at the core of peaceful nuclear energy programs but could be switched to making weapons.

The warning came amid heightened fears that North Korea's nuclear test explosion and Iran's defiance of a U.N. Security Council demand that it suspend uranium enrichment could spark a new arms race, particularly among Asian and Middle Eastern states.

ElBaradei did not single out any country but was clearly alluding to Iran and other nations that are working to develop uranium enrichment capability, such as Brazil.

Other countries, including Australia, Argentina and South Africa, have recently announced that they are considering developing enrichment programs to be able to sell fuel to states that want to generate electricity with nuclear reactors.

Canada, Germany, Sweden, Belgium, Switzerland, Taiwan, Spain, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Lithuania are among nations that either have the means to produce weapons-grade uranium if they choose, could quickly assemble such technology, or could use plutonium waste for weaponization. All are committed to relying on conventional weaponry, and there is no suggestion they want to use their programs for arms.

Japan also says it has no plans to develop atomic weapons, but it could make them on short notice by processing tons of plutonium left over from its nuclear reactors. South Korea also has spent reactor fuel and was found a few years ago to have conducted small-scale secret experiments on making highly enriched uranium that would be usable in warheads.

Other countries considering nuclear programs in the near future are Egypt, Bangladesh, Ghana, Indonesia, Jordan, Namibia, Moldova, Nigeria, Poland, Thailand, Turkey, Vietnam and Yemen, U.N. officials say.

There are five formally declared nuclear weapons states -- the U.S., Russia, China, France and Britain -- and four others are known or thought to have such arms: India, Pakistan, Israel and now North Korea.

ElBaradei said, "The knowledge is out ... both for peaceful purpose and unfortunately also for not peaceful purposes."

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