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 experts.

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 Government.

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 nuclear material.

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 fact.

Proposition two: 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 disappeared.

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 seriously.

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 plutonium.

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 uranium.

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 Tehran.

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 identified.

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.

Maps  ·  Timeline  ·  Interviews  ·  FAQS  ·  Links  ·  Readings
Reactions  ·  Tapes and Transcripts  ·  Explore FRONTLINE

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation



Solitary NationApril 22nd