Tuesday, August 20, 2013

International team secures "loose plutonium" site in a former Soviet republic

Both the Washington Post and New York Times reported in detail Sunday about the enormous effort to secure “loose” plutonium from Degelen Mountain at the Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan.
  
The effort included plugging holes and entranceways, and in securing and removing some plutonium that had already been partially removed.  Apparently scavengers had been hiding in the area.
  
There would be concern that similar facilities elsewhere in the old Soviet Union need attention, as would facilities in countries trying to develop nuclear weapons, like North Korea and Iran.
  
If plutonium or HEU were to be acquired by terrorists, they could make small nuclear devices or could conceivably set off “radiation dispersion devices” or “dirty bombs” in populated areas, making them uninhabitable for years and making enormous numbers of people suddenly homeless, with worthless real estate.
  
Former Senator Sam Nunn has been active with the NTI, or Nuclear Threat Initiative, which in 2004 made a short feature film “The Last Best Chance” about the threat. 
  
In late 2002, while still living in Minneapolis,  I received a mysteriously map on a pdf attached to an email that appeared to show possible nuclear sites in Russia.  I forwarded it to law enforcement.
      
The Washington Post story by David E. Hoffman and Eben Harrell is called “Saving the World at Plutonium Mountain” and appears in the Outlook section Aug. 18, link.  Ellen Barry has a similar story in the NYTimes, p. 12, “A Secret Race for Abandoned Nuclear Materials”, link here.
     
The effort to secure this one site has taken seventeen years.  But there must be many others, too. The recent strain in relations between Russia and the US, over both the "anti-gay" law straining the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics, and Russia's hiding of Edward Snowden, does not bode well for further cooperation in securing loose nuclear materials.  


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