In the recently published ‘Dual-use distinguishability: How 3D printing shapes the security dilemma for nuclear programs,’ author Tristan A. Volpe (Naval Postgraduate School) discusses the current role of additive manufacturing in nuclear programs, and the challenges that the industry and other nations face too.
While AM processes may be present in numerous programs, the strategy in using such technology and current impacts are not yet clear. As with other weapons and some parts and products that can be considered controversial in 3D printing, nuclear weapons may be easier to create in the civilian arena.
While 3D printing has certainly been embraced by organizations with the highest of security—from NASA to almost every division of the US military, the security issues that accompany this progressive technology are obvious and the conversation continues to grow regarding its potential for problems in the wrong hands.
The ability to make new parts at a fraction of the price with conventional technology is too good for most corporate or government entities to pass up, however, then they worry about the price to be paid when everyone may know how to put such techniques into action—and have access to the hardware, software, and materials.
Volpe’s goal is to explore the uses of 3D printing in the nuclear industry, along with how such technology will ‘impact strategic stability.’ Volpe focuses on how entire nations may be affected—not just facilities—and how to understand more about entities and their willingness (or not) to ‘reveal benign motives’ as they possess new methods for creating items like nuclear weapons. Deception is a major consideration amongst nations and their communications with each other and to the world.
The intrinsic—and very attractive benefits—of 3D printing can also create an enormous sense of competition within the energy industry and the supply chain overall. What Volpe hopes to see in the end is greater teamwork between industries, nations, and institutions around the world and less factors contributing to security issues and paranoia.
Military technology is, of course, a major consideration internationally because one leader doesn’t like to see another gaining a leg up in creating more advanced arms.
“The security dilemma tends to be mild when (1) it is easier and cheaper to invest in defensive capabilities, and (2) other states can clearly distinguish between different types of military postures,” states Volpe.
On the flip side though, the dilemma regarding security can become severe when new technology arrives on the scene—offering visible results and the obvious potential for change.
“Since states struggle to send and receive accurate information in this world, worst-case assumptions must be made about motives, thereby creating conditions ripe for competition and conflict. As a result, the security dilemma depends on the impact and distinguishability of military technology available to states at any given point,” explains Volpe.
Proliferation causes threat, rivals begin to experience pressure to restore balance, and instability may ensue.
There is a chance that AM processes and widespread use could allow nations to ‘make clear distinctions’ regarding peaceful and military motives in the face of nuclear programs, especially in the face of clear distinguishability—making it difficult for weapons aspirants to copy national research and development efforts. Volpe suggests that analysts should be examining whether AM could cause a breakthrough in creating greater uranium enrichment or a reduction in fissile material needed for nuclear explosives.
“By changing the nature of proliferation threats and assurances, such shifts in the information environment could help to explain patterns in the strategies and tactics of proliferation, as well as the use of nuclear latency to deter aggression and compel concessions in world politics,” concludes Volpe.
“If suppliers and recipients of nuclear technology use digital production capabilities embedded within a larger Internet of Nuclear Things architecture, then the technology could reveal more information about the trajectory of nuclear investments than safeguards and non-proliferation promises do at present. Nuclear energy programs would face strong economic and security reasons to join this system, thereby leaving weapons-aspirants on the outside exposed to espionage and sabotage.”
3D printing in nuclear programs may be more complex than other industries, but scientists and engineers have been involved in projects to 3D print new parts for nuclear warheads, studying its uses for creating nuclear components, and even making nuclear weapons.
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