A novel nuclear weapons proliferation assessment method has been developed to determine a state’s nuclear weapons latency, the expected time to be taken by a non-nuclear weapons state to develop a conventionally deliverable nuclear weapon given the state’s position on a path toward or away from a nuclear weapon and accounting for the state’s motivations and intentions. Potential proliferation time is taken as a representation of the latent proliferation capacity of a non-nuclear weapons state. An assessment of proliferation time is critical to crafting an effective policy response within a useful time frame. Current proliferation assessments either have a limited (or nonexistent) treatment of proliferation time or are static case-specific assessments frequently built on restricted information and opaque assumptions.A nuclear weapons latency computational tool has been developed to determine a state’s nuclear weapons latency. It embodies a stochastic Petri net proliferation simulation. The Latency Tool makes three simple assumptions: (1) a decision to proliferate has been made, (2) the proliferation pathway network is known, and (3) the associated pathway activity times are estimable. Beyond the quantification of a state’s latency, the Latency Tool provides a transparent, efficient, adaptable, and highly repeatable platform, which allows for extensive sensitivity analysis to better inform the nonproliferation discussion and policy decisions.Functionality of the Latency Tool was verified and inherent sensitivities determined through historical analysis with the U.S. case of proliferation in the Manhattan Project. Network and operational parameters were found that drove expected latencies high, whereas others increased the latency distribution variance.Specific sensitivity testing to policy options such as nuclear technology sale or development enables the Latency Tool to characterize the relative proliferation risk of the options. In this manner, the Latency Tool can help fill a void of useful proliferation risk information provided by technical assessments to policy makers identified by the 2013 National Research Council study Improving the Assessment of Proliferation Risk of Nuclear Fuel Cycles.
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