Mohamed El Baradei cautioned on Monday that as many as 30 nations could rapidly develop nuclear weapons. The International Atomic Energy Agency chief warned that countries are “hedging their bets” by developing peaceful nuclear programs that could provide the necessary technology and material for weaponization.
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.
El Baradei 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.