Nuclear Weapons | Readout and Recommendations

Additive Manufacturing and Nuclear Nonproliferation: Shared Perspectives on Security Implications and Governance Options

October 2018


3D printing is beginning to transform the manufacture of sensitive nuclear and missile technologies.

This list of use cases is growing as additive manufacturing (AM) technology matures. The United States is developing AM techniques to more efficiently modernize warheads in the U.S. stockpile. NASA, the Department of Defense, and several private firms are actively developing, test-firing, and flying rocket engines made with additively manufactured components.

With this technological change comes concern that the capabilities that make AM technology so promising for agile and efficient production could open pathways for proliferators developing nuclear weapons and the means of their delivery.

What can export control regimes, national governments, and industry do to stay ahead of such risks? Or mitigate them if and when they emerge?

This paper summarizes the major themes from a workshop that the Stanley Center recently hosted in Berlin. The workshop brought together European and U.S. experts, including technical experts, researchers, industry stakeholders, and government officials dealing with export controls and nonproliferation regimes, to assess the risks and opportunities posed by AM technology and to consider governance approaches.

The brief describes the state of play with advancements in AM technology. It examines how AM might affect nuclear proliferation pathways and strategies. It then explores how export control regimes and other stakeholders can respond to the rapid pace of AM development and promote governance measures that mitigate the risks of AM for nuclear proliferation.

Here’s a preview of general observations from the paper and workshop:

  • The current risks of AM for nuclear proliferation appear low, and export control regimes and member states seem to be “ahead of the curve” in assessing risks and considering responses.
  • As AM technology advances, it will magnify the export control regimes’ existing challenges with intangible technology transfer, regime coherence and harmonization, and finding equilibrium between control and innovation.
  • To respond to any emerging concerns, export control regimes could increase outreach to AM industry stakeholders, raise awareness with the expert community through technical exchanges, and prepare to fast-track control listings if developments warrant issuing them.
  • Industry stakeholders could play a constructive role in promoting responsible use of AM technology by engaging with the nonproliferation expert community. They could also share and coordinate on best practices on compliance – particularly with small- and medium-sized enterprises or AM service bureaus.