NBC Weapons: Myths About Russian Nuclear Stockpiles



March 16, 2007: The U.S. National Intelligence Council, in a recent report to Congress, admitted that they are not sure if Russian nuclear weapons, and weapons grade nuclear material, are secure from terrorists. Translation; "we don't have a clue about what's going on with the nuclear material, and believe the Russians don't either, but we are not sure, and the Russians are not being forthcoming."

Then again, all of the Russian nuclear material recovered from dealers and smugglers has come from commercial, not military, sources. We know from other intel (at least stuff that has been released), that Russian nuclear security troops have been approached with offers to help steal nuclear material. But if anything was sold, it has not shown up. There have been dozens of nuclear materials dealers caught in the last decade. If material stolen from military stocks exists, where is it? All this stuff is really good for is a dirty bomb, and it's easier to get radioactive material from other sources (like chemotherapy labs at hospitals) for a dirty bomb. Getting a Russian nuke, without the PAL keys (codes to activate the bomb), just gets you nuclear material and some disabled electronics.

It's also worth remembering that the engineering of a nuclear weapon is more of a chore than getting the nuclear material. Both Pakistan and North Korea have detonated poorly engineered nuclear weapons that fizzled, demonstrating how easy it is to screw up the engineering. As for dirty bombs, it's dangerous transporting nuclear material, and several couriers of that stuff have ended up dead, or very, very sick.

Russia's military stockpiles of nuclear bombs and material may be vulnerable, but so far, there's been no evidence of it.

Hearst Newspapers reporter Eric Rosenberg first wrote about the U.S. National Intelligence Council report on March 11. The above article was an email sent to him, after he sent us a copy of the article for comments. Eric asked for a plug. We don't usually give plugs, but I thought you might like to know how some of our articles come to be. Many come from incoming, and outgoing, email exchanges.


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