Terrorists Could Obtain Nuclear Material from Russia, Former U.S. Official Says

There remains a very real threat that nuclear material from Russia could fall into terrorist hands, a former U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration official warned earlier this year in a wide-ranging interview with the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control (see GSN, Feb. 11).

“There are research reactor sites in Russia that use highly enriched uranium; they remain a concern,” William Tobey said before leaving his position as NNSA deputy administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation, the Washington Times reported.

Support from the United States has helped Russia to safeguard its nuclear facilities, but concerns remain that terrorists or rogue nations might gain access to sensitive material, Tobey said.

"If you're talking about research reactors, it's probably less likely that it would be an insider threat.

But if you're talking about other, larger, facilities where weapons-usable material is handled, an insider threat would probably be more acute,” said Tobey, now a senior fellow at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. “We know from experience that bulk material is more vulnerable to theft by insiders.”

The Obama administration should make securing these Russian nuclear research sites a priority, according to Wisconsin Project Director Gary Milhollin.

“These sites probably contain many bombs’ worth of highly enriched uranium in the form of fresh reactor fuel,” he said. “It would increase everyone’s security to have this material fully protected” (Bill Gertz, Washington Times, March 12).

March 13, 2009
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There remains a very real threat that nuclear material from Russia could fall into terrorist hands, a former U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration official warned earlier this year in a wide-ranging interview with the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control (see GSN, Feb. 11).

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