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Is China on the verge of producing their own nuclear arsenal?

Changbiao, a small islet of the coastline of China it is home to the first two of China's CFR-600 sodium-cooled fast-neutron nuclear reactors. The first of the two reactors is scheduled to be on line in 2023 with the second finishing around 2026. Together the two will help China realize their carbon-neutral goal of 2060, by producing non-fossil-fueled-renewable energy, and possibly, some experts fear, increase their nuclear weapon supply.

Known as breeder reactors the CFR-600 reactors have the ability to produce plutonium. Which could be reprocessed and used as a fuel source for other nuclear reactors, or it could be used to produce nuclear war heads at a very fast rate. Frank von Hippel, a senior nuclear research physicist, and co-founder of Princeton University's program on Science and Global Security, recently co-authored a paper on the subject. In the paper he states that China could "conservatively produce 1,270 nuclear war heads by 2030, simply by exploiting the weapons-grade plutonium that the two reactors will produce." Suggesting that that number could be doubled by two or more if they user high enriched uranium or composite uranium-plutonium for the cores in their reactor bombs and missiles.

This is concerning for countries around the world considering China, hasn't voluntarily declared on it's stock of civilian plutonium to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IEA) since 2017, and has failed to add these newest reactor to the database. Puzzling some experts and governments around the world is the lack of transparency from China, considering they have previously been very transparent when it came to their civilian plutonium program.

The fact that studies have shown that this type of breeder are one of the least economically sound choices a country could make, leads many to believe that they are meant to serve the dual purpose of energy and increasing China's nuclear weapon supply. According to von Hippel, the US needs to work with Japan, South Korea, and China on declaring a "commercial plutonium timeout," and start putting pressure on China about their lack of transparency with IAEA.

This article was previously reported on by Al Jezeera.

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