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Black marketeers at a Russian nuclear facility attempt to steal enough material for a nuclear bomb, but are foiled by the successor to the KGB.
Desperate scientists in Georgia, armed with sticks and garden rakes, serve as the only guards for bomb-usable uranium at their facility, in the midst of a raging civil war.
An employee at Russia’s largest nuclear weapon design laboratory is arrested for spying for Iraq -- and investigators warn that economic desperation at the lab is likely to provoke more such cases.
These are not scenarios from the latest Hollywood scripts, but real events detailed in a new report, The Next Wave: Urgently Needed New Steps to Control Warheads and Fissile Material. The study warns of the "clear and present danger" that nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union could be stolen and fall into hostile hands, and details the frightening threats to U.S. and international security posed by the massive stockpiles of nuclear weapons and their essential ingredients left over from decades of Cold War.
The report's author outlines a comprehensive six-point plan for reducing these threats, calling for a 100% to 200% increase in spending to secure, monitor, and reduce nuclear stockpiles from roughly half a billion dollars a year currently to $1-$1.5 billion per year -- half of one percent of the U.S. defense budget -- for at least five years.
The report will be released at the Carnegie International Non-Proliferation Conference at the Washington Marriott on March 16. Drafted by Harvard University nonproliferation expert and former White House adviser Matthew Bunn, the report is jointly published by Harvard’s Project on Managing the Atom and the Non-Proliferation Project of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.
Graham Allison, Director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, warned that "the battle to secure these dangerous materials is one we simply cannot afford to lose. These issues should be at top of the agenda when Clinton and Russian President Putin meet. The major U.S. presidential candidates have acknowledged that more must be done to address these critical threats to U.S. security, and the public should demand that each of them say more about what he would do as President to protect Americans from these nuclear risks." "Theft of nuclear weapons or their essential ingredients is among the most urgent national security risks Americans face," said Joseph Cirincione, Director of the Non-Proliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "We should move to reduce this threat as fast as we practically can -- and this report offers a road map for getting that job done."
The former Soviet security system, designed for a single state with a closed society, closed borders, and well-paid, well-cared-for nuclear workers has been splintered among multiple states with open societies, open borders, desperate, underpaid nuclear workers, and rampant theft and corruption. Theft of just a few kilograms of plutonium or highly enriched uranium (HEU) could allow a rogue state or terrorist group to make a nuclear bomb -- and there have been multiple documented cases of theft of kilogram quantities of these materials since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The agenda for action outlined in the new study includes the following six points:
Expand the cooperative effort to improve security and accounting for nuclear material in the former Soviet Union to the fastest pace technology and cooperation with the former Soviet states will allow, not limited by money;
Pay Russia to blend all its excess HEU to forms that can no longer be used in weapons within a few years;
Finance the disposal or irradiation of Russia’s stocks of excess weapons plutonium;
Help shrink the massive Russian nuclear complex to a size that poses less threat to the United States, and re-employ thousands of excess nuclear scientists and technicians;
Offer to finance transparent dismantlement of thousands of Russian warheads, with reciprocal monitoring of U.S. dismantlement; and
Expand available revenue for nuclear security through such measures as spent fuel storage, additional HEU purchases, debt swaps, and lifting restraints on legitimate exports.
To carry out this broad agenda, the study calls for the appointment of a senior White House official with direct access to the President and full-time responsibility for leading programs to address these serious security threats.
"The programs now in place to address these threats are among the most cost-effective security investments anywhere in the U.S. budget, but they are simply not enough." said Bunn. "We cannot afford delays in ensuring that these materials do not fall into hostile hands."
Copies of the report are available from the Non-Proliferation Project of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C. (contact 202-939-2296) or from the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA (contact 617-495-9858).
Copies may also be downloaded from the websites of the Harvard Project on Managing the Atom at http://ksgnotes1.harvard.edu/BCSIA/Library.nsf/pub/nextwave and the Carnegie Non-Proliferation Project at http://www.ceip.org/programs/npp/nextwave