Latent Capacity Proliferation Model

Latent Capacity Proliferation Model

The model used of latent capacity used in this presentation was developed by Dr. Stephen Meyer of MIT (Meyer, 1984) and modified by Dr. Richard Stoll of Rice University.

A country is said to have a latent capacity when it has sufficient technical, industrial, material, and financial resources to support a wholly indigenous weapons program. Even though a state may have a latent capacity, it must still make an explicit decision to develop the particular facilities necessary to create weapons. However, once a state has a latent capacity, it is very difficult -- perhaps impossible -- to deny it nuclear weapons, since it is in essence self-sufficient. It may still be possible to alter the motivations of the state so as to persuade it not to proceed.


There are ten major indicators in the model, all of which are necessary conditions for the production of nuclear weapons. These resources cover the entire production process, from refining the uranium ore to building the mechanism itself. The ten indicators are:

Previous National Mining Activity

To efficiently extract uranium, the country should have some experience with mining activity. The presence of this experience is assumed if some fraction of the country's labor force has at some time been engaged in mining activity.

Indigenous Uranium Deposits

Uranium is a critical element in the production of both uranium- and plutonium-based nuclear weapons. Meyer taps this aspect of latent capacity by indicating the presence of known uranium deposits within the country. Beginning in 1970, however, Stoll drops this requirement due to the ease with which any country may purchase a supply of uranium on the world market. Thus, after 1970, all countries are granted this prerequisite.


Some experience with metallurgy is necessary to process uranium. The training necessary to process uranium can be learned in a few months by a knowledgeable metallurgist. The presence of a corps of trained metallurgists is indicated if the country produces steel in indigenous facilities.

Steel Production

Steel is necessary to build both weapons facilities and parts of the weapons themselves. Indigenous steel production is required if the country is to perform the heavy construction required for weapons facilities without importing materials.

Construction Work Force

To build the specialized industrial facilities necessary for a weapons program, a corps of workers (less than one thousand) must be familiar with construction involving both steel and cement. A country is listed as having the necessary construction work force if it produces both steel and cement.

Chemical Engineers

Chemical processing and conversion is an important part of latent capacity. The surrogate measure for the presence of this body of knowledge is an indigenous capacity to produce one of several acids. This ability is indicated by the domestic production of either nitric acid or sulfuric acid.

Nitric Acid

Nitric acid is used in the weapons production process. An ability to produce nitric acid is indicated by the domestic production of nitric acid, or if the country produces both sulfuric acid and non-organic nitrogenous fertilizer.

Electrical Production Capacity

Meyer assumes that the electrical power demands for a latent capacity are under 10 megawatts. Since the development of this capacity is supposed to occur without imposing a significant hardship on the country, Meyer assumes that no more than five percent of the country's electric power production capacity can be diverted for the weapons program. Consequently, the country has the requisite electrical power capacity if it has an installed capacity of at least 200 megawatts.

Nuclear Engineers, Physicists, and Chemists

Trained and experienced personnel with these specialist skills are necessary to have a latent capacity; in particular a sufficient pool of these skills is necessary to assemble a critical mass to produce a fissile explosive. The presence of these skills is indicated if the country has sufficient experience in the operation of research reactors. This level of experience is defined as three reactor years (i.e., one reactor in operation for three years, three reactors in operation for one year, or any other combination totaling to three years).

Explosives and Electronics Specialists

A country with a latent capacity needs a group of specialists that are knowledgeable in the design and construction of electronic ignition devices; this would allow for the design and construction of the fusing and detonator system for a bomb. These types of skills are similar to those required for automobile ignitions and radio or television production. These skills are indicated if the country manufactures motor vehicles, or assembles motor vehicles and manufactures radios or televisions.

Shortcomings and Omissions

The United States and the Soviet Union are not included in the data set. It is assumed for presentation purposes that these nations both have latent capacity in 1946. The data on uranium deposits in Eastern Europe is incomplete, so some countries may have had this resource prior to the indicated date. There is considerable dependence between the ten resources listed, so these statistics should not be considered completely independent of each other.


Meyer, Stephen M. 1984. The Dynamics of Nuclear Proliferation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Jeremy Buhler --