Another paper published in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists on 21st February said that spread and maturation of additive manufacturing (including 3D printing) could challenge major control mechanisms for inhibiting nuclear proliferation.  It says that additive manufacturing technology is still alluring to the civil nuclear industry because it offers the promise of an agile, cost-effective means of production, especially as nuclear supply chains atrophy in the US and parts of Europe – and small batches of mission-critical reactor components, for instance, can be difficult and expensive to source if they are produced using traditional methods, as producers often need long lead times to establish processes for forging and casting parts.  The paper says that the main proliferation challenge posed by additive manufacturing is that the attractive technical features associated with 3-D printing could make monitoring and regulating nuclear technology transfers more difficult in the years ahead. This risk takes 2 main forms –

  • it could ease the work of proliferators; and
  • it could complicate the work of the non-proliferation community.

The paper goes on to expand on these points.

The paper then explains that those procuring equipment and technology employ 3 tactics to subvert export controls and avoid detection by national intelligence agencies –

  • the use of “deception points” to trick an vendor or government into believing that a controlled technology is being delivered for a legitimate end-use or to a legitimate end-user;
  • the exploitation of the weakest links in the global supply chain – that is, fencing sensitive items through countries with lax controls and enforcement; and
  • breaking down suspicious orders into innocuous component

The paper argues that additive manufacturing would seem to make it easier for illicit operators to use all these 3 methods.  In particular, additive manufacturing might make it more difficult to distinguish between allowable and unallowable instances of activities that are “useful for both civilian and military ends”, as required in dual-use controls.

Whilst the threat, it says, is not immediately imminent, the technology also offers a chance to better control things, if they are indeed connected and interconnected in an internet of things, and that the opportunity can arise for an “internet of nuclear things”.  The paper argues that governments and industry face strong incentives to develop capabilities for an internet of nuclear things in the years ahead – but face a number of technical barriers.

Author: raytodd2017

Chartered Legal Executive and former senior manager with Isle of Man Customs and Excise, where I was (amongst other things) Sanctions Officer (for UN/EU sanctions), Export Licensing Officer and Manager of the Legal-Library & Collectorate Support Section

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