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Is Building A Nuclear Bomb About To Get Way Easier?

Ever wonder why rogue nations don't have nuclear capabilities yet? Because building atomic weapons has remained an enormously complicated and expensive process. A new laser-based enrichment technique could change all that.

French nuclear test in the Pacific (James Vaughan)
French nuclear test in the Pacific (James Vaughan)


Largely unnoticed, over the past few years a new technique for the enrichment of uranium has been developed – the "Silex" laser-based method. Techniques widely used now are the gaseous diffusion and gas centrifuge techniques.

Developed by Australian scientists, Silex stands for "Separation of Isotopes by Laser Excitation." Although most details about the method are top secret, what is known is that a CO2 laser is used to irradiate uranium hexafluoride gas, which excites 235UF6 molecules. To produce both civil nuclear power and military warheads, the U-235 isotope in uranium must be beefed up or "enriched."

According to experts, the Silex enrichment method could be 16 times more efficient then the centrifuge technique.

Global Laser Enrichment, a subsidiary of GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, is planning to build the first commercial Silex facility in Wilmington, North Carolina. It is awaiting permission from relevant authorities. Global Laser expects to receive the green light some time this year.

Laser enrichment is controversial among experts because it lowers the technical hurdles needed to build atomic weapons and could spur proliferation of weapons-grade material. Because the laser enrichment technique is less elaborate than the centrifuge method it does not require as large a facility – in fact, according to Global Laser Enrichment, a Silex facility takes up 75% less volume than a comparable centrifugal one.

This makes detection of secret facilities by spy satellites a much greater challenge. And because the laser method uses substantially less energy, the thermal clues that can give away the presence of a secret facility are harder to pinpoint.

The lower cost of the Silex method for enriching the uranium used in fuel rods is in itself a huge selling point, says American physicist Francis Slakey of Georgetown University in Washington D.C. He calculates that costs would be halved, which would mean that the average American's monthly electricity bill could be lower by 66 cents assuming that savings were passed on to consumers.

However, professional associations of both American and German physicists have warned of the dangers of unchecked use of the Silex method. Professor Wolfgang Sander, president of the German Physical Society (DPG), said that "the risks tied to the Silex method must be examined more closely. Making the technology to produce nuclear weapons widely available has to be avoided under all circumstances."

Read the full story in German by Norbert Lossau

Photo - James Vaughan

*Newsbites are digest items, not direct translations

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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

Settlers, Prisoners, Resistance: How Israeli Occupation Ties Gaza To The West Bank

The fate of the West Bank is inevitably linked to the conflict in Gaza; and indeed Israeli crackdowns and settler expansion and violence in the West Bank is a sign of an explicit strategy.

Settlers, Prisoners, Resistance: How Israeli Occupation Ties Gaza To The West Bank

Israeli soldiers take their positions during a military operation in the Balata refugee camp, West Bank.

Riham Al Maqdama


CAIRO — Since “Operation Al-Aqsa Flood” began on October 7, the question has been asked: What will happen in the West Bank?

A review of Israel’s positions and rhetoric since 1967 has always referred to the Gaza Strip as a “problem,” while the West Bank was the “opportunity,” so that former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s decision to withdraw Israeli settlements from Gaza in 2005 was even referred to as an attempt to invest state resources in Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank.

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This separation between Gaza and the West Bank in the military and political doctrine of the occupation creates major challenges, repercussions of which have intensified over the last three years.

Settlement expansion in the West Bank and the continued restrictions of the occupation there constitute the “land” and Gaza is the “siege” of the challenge Palestinians face. The opposition to the West Bank expansion is inseparable from the resistance in Gaza, including those who are in Israeli prisons, and some who have turned to take up arms through new resistance groups.

“What happened in Gaza is never separated from the West Bank, but is related to it in cause and effect,” said Ahmed Azem, professor of international relations at Qatar University. “The name of the October 7 operation is the Al-Aqsa Flood, referring to what is happening in Jerusalem, which is part of the West Bank.”

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