Excerpt from Graham Allison's testimony on loose nuclear material from the former Soviet Union.
Given before the Senate Subcommittee on European Affairs, August 1995.
(Allison is director of the Center for Science and International Affairs
at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He was
assistant Secretary of Defense in the Bush Administration and serves as
advisor/consultant to Secretary of Defense William Perry)
"So much for my introductory aside. Let me then summarize the major findings
of our Harvard study in seven brief propositions. These propositions are, in
the main, quite consistent with those that we have heard from the first two
Proposition one:. Loose Nukes-the loss, theft, or sale of
weapons-usable nuclear materials or nuclear weapons themselves-is not a
hypothetical threat. It is a brute fact today, hard to ignore. In the past four
years, since the disappearance of the Soviet Union, the number of reported,
suspected, and documented cases of diversion of weapons-usable nuclear material
has been increasing steadily at a sharp pace.
Instance: Murmansk. One night in November 1993, a Russian naval officer
entered a shipyard near Murmansk, located a building used for naval reactor
fuel storage, removed fuel containing about 10 pounds of weapons-usable,
highly-enriched uranium--smaller than the Coke can--put the fuel in a bag and
walked out of the shipyard the same way he came.
The officer had been briefed beforehand by his brother, a civilian employee of
the shipyard. He was aware that the flimsy security protecting the substantial
inventory of highly enriched uranium that was used as fuel for naval nuclear
reactors was easily penetrated. He penetrated it successfully, put the stuff in
his garage and was looking for a buyer when be was caught.
Second instance: Plutonium seized in Munich in August, 1994. Almost a pound of
weapons-usable plutonium seized by German police at the Munich Airport. The
plutonium had been carried in a suitcase on a flight from Moscow to Munich. Two
passengers on th flight were arrested and a third man in Munich who was
identified as the buyer.
This came about as a result of a sting operation organized by the German law
enforcement agencies. There is no doubt that the plutonium came from Russia
and that there would have been other buyers if this had not been the German
John Holdren has already mentioned a third incident, that the HEU found in
Prague in December of 1994: 6 pounds of highly-enriched uranium, two plastic
wrapped metal containers in the back seat of a Saab parked on a side street. Czech nuclear scientists, a Russian and a Belarusian were arrested in
connection with the seizure. Russian documents were found along with the
If these examples are not enough, we have the largest and most dramatic case in
which the American Government purchased and removed about 1,000 pounds of
highly-enriched uranium from Kazakhstan just last year-material sufficient to
allow a terrorist or rogue state a serious arsenal of 20 nuclear weapons.
In this case, the Kazakh Government contacted the U.S. Government. The U.S.
Government purchased this thousand pounds of highly-enriched uranium, took it,
and brought it to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, paying for it in an amount that has
been reported to be about $20 million. $20 million paid for more than 20
weapons equivalents. This is not a hypothetical question. It is a brute
If a rogue actor--a state like
Iran or Iraq or Libya or Cuba, or a terrorist group like Hamas who exploded the
weapon in Israel the day before yesterday, or a drug cartel-obtained as little
as 30 pounds of highly-enriched uranium, or less than half that weight in
plutonium, they could produce a nuclear device in a matter of a month or two
with design information that is publicly available, equipment that is readily
available in the commercial market, and modest levels of technical competence
represented in graduates of any respectable engineering program. How much is
30 pounds of highly-enriched uranium or half that of plutonium? I liked Tom
Cochran's Coke can.
I carry this briefcase with me everywhere as you know from having seen me in other settings. In this briefcase, I carried today in addition to the pile
of papers, first one softball. It is an American softball. If this softball
were highly-enriched urnaium, it would weigh 30 pounds. It fits my
briefcase quite well. Actually, I could carry several softballs of
highly-enriched uranium in my case.
If we were talking about plutonium, enough plutonium to make a bomb, a second
item in this same briefcase is more than enough. This is an American baseball.
There could be several of them that fit alongside the softball very well, So
the amounts involved as Mr. Holdren and Cochran have already said are very
small. Once this amount of material is in-hand, the rest of the
problem is relatively easy.
As Johnny Foster, the former Director of Livermore Lab, wrote in the
Encyclopedia Americana more than 20 years ago: "If the essential nuclear
materials like these are in-hand, it is possible to make an atomic bomb using
the information that is available in the open literature."
Proposition three: If the terrorists who attacked the 110-story
World Trade Center in 1993, or more recently last April, the Federal Office
Building in Oklahoma City killing 162 men, women, and children had used the
same minivan that they drove, but filled it not with chemical based explosives
they used, but rather with a weapon that started with this softball, what would
have been the consequences?
They could have created an explosion of 10,000 to 20,000 tons of TNT which would
demolish an area of about 3 square miles. I brought a couple of
charts that my colleague, Matt, will display.
Here is Oklahoma City. The blue, the internal ring, is the area that was
demolished by the bomb that was used by the terrorists at the Federal Office
Building. Had this same van carried this softball worth of highly-enriched
uranium, this red area suggests that all of downtown Oklahoma City would have
This second chart gives you Oklahoma City on a bigger map scale, I don't
think the television can show it. It just puts it in perspective. In fact, as
we know from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the larger effects actually come from the
fires that are set off by such an explosion, but this chart limits itself to
damage done in the first instance by the blast effect.
For those who live in New York, it is worth considering what would have
happened of the terrorist van at the World Trade Center had carried just the
softball or the baseball rather than the explosives that it carried. One sees
that lower Manhattan basically disappears, including the financial district up
to Gramercy Park.
For those here in Washington, I think Tom Cochran has already made the point
clearly. But the next chart shows Washington as a target area. Downtown
Washington would not survive.
Proposition four: As the most open society in the world, the U.S.
is also most vulnerable to nuclear terrorist attack. In fact, my personal bet
is that we are not the most likely first target. As I try to explain to my
Russian friends, the threat of loose nukes is greater to them than it is to us
because I think that Russia would be actually an attractive first target.
I think the Middle East offers the second most attractive target. But the
United States is indeed the most open and therefore the most vulnerable set of
targets. If a rogue state or terrorist group acquired this softball of HFU,
could they transport it to the U.S.? As one of my colleagues at Harvard likes
to say, if they have any doubt, they could always wrap it in a bail of
marijuana. We know you can deliver that to any of our major cities.
How many uninspected packages arrive in the U.S. every day? The answer is
literally in the millions. In fact, the irony will be if the first one of
these softballs comes in a Federal Express package.
Proposition five: Why is this problem arising now? Why is
this an urgent problem now, four decades into the nuclear age? What is
new, or significantly worse about this problem, now?
As John Holdren has already indicated, this goes back to your hearings
yesterday. Again, it is hard for us, I think, to appreciate the
depth of what is happening. We are witnessing a historically unique and
unprecedented event, whose consequences we still can't seem to take
Russia is a state in the midst of a revolution: a genuine transformation in its
economy, its government, its society, every aspect of life. This revolution is
shredding the fabric of command and control society, in a state that contains a
superpower nuclear arsenal and a superpower nuclear enterprise.
This revolution is driven by the deepest and most powerful forces, none more
important than individuals' demand for freedom. As we watch the Russian
reformers attempt to deconstruct what was actually a prison in which
they lived for 70 years and create a society in which they can live free from
the fear that was the backbone of Soviet society, we have to applaud.
But the same forces that are tearing down this prison state are affecting the
individuals and systems charged with controlling more than 30,000 nuclear
weapons that are still left there; more than 1,000 tons of highly-enriched
uranium that are still left there; more than 100 tons of plutonium that are
still there in place.
As you know, Senator, I go to Russia every couple of months on a project that I
have been part of for now 5 years. I am in touch with Russian officials and
friends every week. While I am optimistic about Russia, and hopeful about the
current economic and political reforms, I note that in every other area of
life, significant quantities of every other item of value has been "fiberated,"
as people so often say there. Individual entrepreneurs or criminals have
seized assets for themselves and exported them for money.
Take any precious metal and ask how can Estonia be the second largest exporter
of precious metals of the world when it produces no precious metals? Take
diamonds and ask about how many show up in the grey market. Take gold. Take
any other item of value. To date, we have no evidence that a nuclear weapon's
equivalent of highly-enriched uranium or indeed a bomb itself has been
successful exported. This is something for which I think we can give thanks.
But I believe we are living on borrowed time.
If, or when, the first several weapons equivalents of highly-enriched uranium
is discovered in the Middle East or indeed even here in the U.S., conventional
wisdom will quickly declare what? That this was of course to be expected. It
was inevitable, anyone could see this was going to happen.
Proposition six: How big is this problem? My colleagues have
already argued that there are more than 100 sites across Russia at which
nuclear weapons can be found. Here, I have brought a map of the nuclear weapons
archipelago. More than 100 sites over what is now one-seventh of the earth's
land mass. There are an additional hundred sites at which there are
significant quantities, that is numbers of bombs' worth, of highly-enriched
uranium or plutonium.
So, you are talking about several hundred locations.
These locations include weapons storage depots. They include deployed weapons.
They include research laboratories. They include abandoned research
facilities. There are many, many, many different sites. This chart is too
complicated I think for television, but offers a stylized overview of the
Russian nuclear complex. It is worth walking through. It is almost like a
spaghetti chart. What one sees is you have got to mine the uranium. You have
got to refine it. You have got to assemble weapons. You then have stockpiles,
deployment, and maintenance. Then, as one dismantles weapons, one dismantles
components. Then one stores highly-enriched uranium. Then one stores
If one takes an example like the case that we know, namely Project Sapphire,
which removed more than 1,000 pounds of highly-enriched uranium from Kazakhstan,
what was the story. This facility had been producing highly-enriched uranium
for naval fuel in the late 1970s and in the early 1980s. Production had simply
ceased because the facilities elsewhere in Russia were producing sufficient
amounts of submarine fuel. The Soviet Union disappeared in the end of 1991. A
thousand pounds of highly-enriched uranium remained there at this facility.
The Russian Government took no action to recover this material. Indeed, there
is no evidence that the Russian Government was aware that this material
had been left there in place.
The Kazakh Government, as the friends from Kazakhstan said to us at this
meeting that Senator Nunn and I were just attending in California, had no idea
that this material was there. The facility director discovered the material,
and said, my goodness, here we have a thousand pounds of highly-enriched
As Secretary Christopher has testified publicly, the Iranian Government
was in Kazakhstan actively interested in this material. Fortunately, because
of good relations between the Kazakh Government and the U.S. Government and
effectiveness on both sides, this material is in Tennessee today rather than in
This outcome is the result of hard work and very, very good fortune. It
is not an isolated case. I believe that we will discover over time a number of
additional facilities at which there are weapons equivalents of materials still
left somewhere, of sites that we and the Russian Government have still not
In fact, in the Project Sapphire case, in which we acquired this more than
1,000 pounds, when it arrived at Oak Ridge, we found that we had four percent
more material than we had purchased. I think this answers the question
of the reliability of current accounting procedures.
My seventh and final proposition: Is there anything we can do to
prevent this? Is this just inevitable? As John Holdren has suggested, and as I
am sure Dr. Gibbons will testify, there are a large number of initiatives
underway. Indeed, you, having sponsored the Nunn-Lugar legislation and
having defended and expanded it, know of many of these initiatives because you
have been in the midst of them.
There has been significant progress in the past year. I support all the current
efforts. I support the recommendations of the Holdren committee for more money
and more flexibility. But I stand back and ask the fundamental question, are
we going to get there from here on the current track? I think the
answer is no.
In the light of our stakes, is the current program of action, level of effort,
urgency of effort, timetable, commitment of funds consistent with American
vital national security interests? I think the answer is certainly no.
Our Report has a full chapter of suggestions about ways in which we might mount
a much more substantial effort if we really believed this was the number one
threat to American security today. I understand that is not the subject
for today's hearings. I look forward to the subsequent hearings you and
Senator Nunn are planning where that will be the focus of debate.
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