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interview: matthew bunn

He is an expert on the security of weapons-usable nuclear material in the former Soviet Union. He served as adviser to the White House Office of Science and Technology  in the Clinton administration. He is curerntly Assistant Director of the Science, Technology and Public Policy Program at Harvard University's Center for Science and International Affairs.

How would you describe the range of what the US is doing to help the former Soviet Union deal with its nuclear arsenal? How should we understand what's going on here?

Well, first of all, I'm not sure I'd use the word "help" per se, in that what we're really doing is making an investment in our own security by dealing with specific issues that affect our security if they aren't done the way we would like to see them done in the former Soviet Union. matthew bunnThe issue of the nuclear legacy of the Soviet Union covers an enormous range. You have still on alert thousands of warheads on missiles that could be launched at any time. And so one has to worry about the command and control for those missiles, making sure that it's impossible for anyone to launch those without authorization, reducing the risk of accident as much as one can. You have an enormous number of warheads that are just in storage, not loaded on missiles. And one has to worry about: Are those warheads secure? Are they all accounted for? You have gigantic stockpile of the essential ingredients of nuclear warheads (plutonium and highly enriched uranium) located at dozens of facilities, literally hundreds of buildings, hundreds of tons of this material, when even a few kilograms of it...would be enough for a nuclear bomb. All of that material has to be secure and accounted for.

The Soviet Union had a security system for nuclear material that worked for 40 years.  But it was built for a different world than today....Then, the threat was the US spy getting into the facility.  Now the threat  is the desperate worker carrying something out.  Their systems weren't designed to address that threat. You also have an enormous complex that was built only to produce nuclear weapons and their essential ingredients. Ten entire cities, where three-quarters of a million people still live, built in remote areas behind barbed wire, whose only purpose was to make nuclear weapons and their essential ingredients. And so we have to deal with the people end. What are we going to do with all of these people who essentially, their mission has ceased to exist? They no longer have the job that they had before....

And then there's an enormous environmental legacy as well, which doesn't affect our security as much, but it's critically important for Russia, with contaminated facilities, unsafe reactors, highly radioactive spent fuel piling up. It will cost billions for them to clean that up, and they just don't have that money....

But there's nothing that could be more central to our own security than making sure that the essential ingredients of nuclear weapons don't fall into the hands of terrorists or rogue states, because most of the difficulty of making a nuclear bomb is getting hold of that plutonium or that highly enriched uranium. Just a small ball of that stuff, and somebody might be able to get access to a nuclear bomb.

You don't like the word "help," but basically we're helping the Russians do defense conversion, aren't we? Isn't that the bottom line? It feels like defense conversion in foreign aid. Why don't we want to call it that?

Because again, it's cooperation to do something that's very directly in our security. The most cost-effective way to deal with the threat posed by a ballistic missile in Russia is with a screwdriver, taking that missile apart. And that's what we're doing. And we're doing it cooperatively with the Russians. It's an interesting and quite different situation than existed in the arms control negotiations of old. In those days, while each side had an interest in pursuing the negotiation, nonetheless each side was trying to limit the other's power while remaining as unlimited as possible, itself. And so there was an inherently adversarial aspect to that negotiation. When you're talking about working together to make sure that plutonium is secure and accounted for, that's something that's every bit as much in the interest of the Russian state as it is of the United States. And so it's something where the US and Russian scientists can work together, hand in hand, in a genuinely cooperative spirit of partnership. So I would really characterize it more as partnership than as assistance or foreign aid.

How confident are you that the various aspects of the nuclear arsenal that you spoke about are secure?

Unfortunately, I'm not at all confident. Let me make a distinction between nuclear weapons themselves and the nuclear material that is the essential ingredients of nuclear weapons. The nuclear weapons themselves are much more secure. They're guarded by a highly professional force in the Twelfth Main Directorate. They are large items. You can't put a nuclear weapon under your overcoat or in your briefcase and walk off with it, without anyone noticing. And you can count them. A guy who runs a depot that has nuclear weapons knows that "I'm supposed to have 35" or "I'm supposed to have 36"; whereas with the nuclear material, it's a completely different situation. The guard force, many of them are 18-year-old, virtually untrained conscripts, have no idea of the importance of what it is that they're guarding. They haven't been paid in six months. Many of them literally have been leaving their posts to forage for food, have been refusing to patrol perimeters because they haven't been issued warm uniforms and it's freezing outside. Also, nuclear material can come in very small items that you can put in your coat pocket or in your briefcase and walk out the door. And most of the Russian nuclear facilities still don't have detectors at the gates that would set off an alarm if someone was doing that.

The Soviet Union had a security system for nuclear material that worked for 40 years. But it was built for a different world than the one we live in today. It was built for a world of pampered, well cared for nuclear workers, in a closed society, with closed borders, and everyone under surveillance by the KGB. Now you've got desperate, unpaid nuclear workers in an open society, with open borders. It's a totally different situation. Then, the threat was the American spy getting into the facility. Now the threat you have to worry about is the desperate worker carrying something out. And their systems weren't designed to address that threat. So that's what we're working with them on now, is installing the appropriate security technology to deal with this new situation.

But you have to work not only on technology; you have to work on people, on relieving the kinds of economic desperation to lead guards to go off and forage for food. I'm very concerned, frankly, that if we don't deal with the electricity at nuclear facilities keeping going, that runs the security systems, if we don't deal with guards who haven't been paid for months at a time and are literally hungry and heavily armed, that we could have a proliferation disaster on our hands, with nuclear material finally falling into the hands of a terrorist group or a rogue state. We know that kilogram quantities of nuclear material have been stolen from Russian nuclear facilities on several occasions in the past. We need to prevent that from happening again and finally falling into the hands of a hostile party.

You were involved in this since 1993, after you started your time at the White House. What was the process by which you started to try to convince the Russians to work with us on this? Did they come to us, or did we go to them?

Largely, we went to them. And it was a process of convincing both governments that (a) this was a dangerous and important and urgent problem, and (b) that cooperation really was possible. You have to remember, you're facing a situation where the guys running security at these Russian facilities are the same guys who were running them when they were Soviet facilities, and when the threat they were trying to deal with was preventing American spies from getting in. So convincing them that having Americans crawling all over their nuclear facilities was part of the answer and not part of the problem, took a long period of socialization.

So originally, the Russians wouldn't let us work cooperatively at any facility that actually had the essential ingredients of nuclear weapons, that actually had plutonium or highly enriched uranium. And it took years to really build the level of cooperation that exists today, when now there are agreements in place to cooperate at essentially every facility in the former Soviet Union where these materials (plutonium and highly enriched uranium) exist. It's an enormous set of programs with Americans flying to Russia constantly to help install the right fences, the right alarms, the right surveillance cameras, the right accounting systems, to make sure all of this material is secure and accounted for.

But we really need to move from that first phase of installing equipment, and to the next phase of: How do we really create a culture of sustainable security over time? How do we make sure that managers invest in the right people and equipment to maintain security over time, in an environment where they are facing horrifying budget cutbacks and having to lay off people and so on? It's a very difficult problem, and it's going to take a long time to come, to really solve it.

The fact that we have programs at all ten of the nuclear cities, or at the various sites, does that mean that the materials at all ten of those places is equally secure?

Absolutely not. There are ten cities built to produce nuclear weapons, but there are more than 50 facilities in the former Soviet Union where there is plutonium or highly enriched uranium. Many of them are civilian facilities, just doing research with this kind of material. Many of them aren't even doing that research any more because they don't have the money, and yet they still have this material on site. There are facilities where the electricity has been cut off, that runs the security systems, because the facility couldn't pay its bills. There are facilities where they literally don't have the money to have 24-hour manning even at the central guard station. So if you came and tried to steal the material when the guard was off duty, you'd be able to. At most facilities in Russia, there has never been a real physical inventory where you actually measured how much plutonium and highly enriched uranium you had on hand. In the old days, they kept track of all of that on paper, and they had a piece of paper that said, "Well, this is how much this was supposed to be when it arrived," and another piece of paper that says, "This is how much I shipped out," and the difference between paper 1 and paper 2 must still be around here somewhere. That really has to be fixed. And that's going to be a lot of work to get that done....

The storage facility for fissile materials we are building at Mayak has been particularly problematic for the US in this whole process. There have been success stories, but Mayak has been problematic. What were the issues there?

There were countless issues involved in Mayak. The main project that has been going forward at Mayak from the dawn of these Cooperative Threat Reduction programs has been a project to build an enormous facility for storing plutonium and highly enriched uranium from dismantled weapons. And first of all, there was an enormous difficulty in getting started, in figuring out how this cooperation was going to work: Who was going to do which work? Which part was going to be done by Americans, which parts were going to be done by Russians? Getting agreement on a design. It just dragged and dragged and dragged and dragged. And now there's an enormous problem with getting the kinds of transparency at that facility that the United States believes is required by US law.

Can you explain what transparency is?

The law under which Congress provided the Defense Department with money to do things like building the storage facility at Mayak says, if we're going to build a facility like that for the plutonium and the uranium from dismantled weapons, we need to be allowed to have enough inspection and access to that facility to know three things. One, that the material came from nuclear warheads, so that it really is stuff from dismantled weapons that we're storing there. Number two, that it's safe and secure while it's there. And number three, that it's not then being returned to nuclear weapons after being stored there. And we've more or less agreed on number two and number three. But how do you verify that an object that shows up at a storage facility actually came from a dismantled nuclear weapon, without exchanging the design details of that nuclear weapon's component that's inside it?

Well, the Russians have decided now that they aren't even going to store the actual components of nuclear weapons at this facility. They're going to crush them down or melt them down into some unclassified form before shipping to this facility. Well, that of course makes it even harder to figure out that this now unclassified slug of metal plutonium or box of plutonium oxide actually came from a weapon. So the United States is now asking for inspection upstream from the storage facility itself, at the facility where they would do that conversion from the component. And that's what's being a big obstacle. And unfortunately, the United States hasn't thought of doing the obvious, which is offering to allow the Russians to have similar inspection when we're converting our plutonium components into unclassified oxide. I think, if we offered that kind of reciprocity so that it was a genuine "tit for tat" situation, that the Russians would be much more willing to play along with the kinds of access that we're asking for....

Are you as sanguine as General Habiger is about the nature of the security at those facilities?

I believe there's reason to worry about security for nuclear warheads in Russia, but I believe that the nuclear material is really the much more urgent problem. The warheads, you can count individually. They're big. They're hard to steal. They've got a professional guard force. They're treated as a core military interest of the Russian state. The material is spread much more widely. It's much harder to account for....I think that the measures that the President announced in his State of the Union address are an excellent first step, but we need to go even farther than he's talking about. We need to move as fast as we can to make sure this material has effective security systems put in place, is consolidated in the smallest number of buildings and storage areas, and that the desperation that the people handling this material and the guards who are guarding it are facing, is alleviated, so that they don't feel the desperation that might some day tempt them to steal nuclear material....

Russia has been an economic basket case for the last seven years. Yet since July, things seem to have taken a turn for the worse. Can you describe what's going on?

The security for Russian nuclear materials suffered a crushing blow from the Russian economic meltdown that happened in mid-August of this past year. Although Russia has been in difficult economic times before, the situation since August has just been dramatically worse. And we now have situations where thousands of nuclear workers with access to nuclear material are going on strike over unpaid wages. Thousands of them haven't been paid in months.... You have facilities that simply aren't operating security equipment that's been installed, because they haven't got the money to operate and maintain it. You've got facilities where the security system has completely gone down for hours at a time because the electricity got cut off, because the facility was unable to pay its bills. This is a very serious situation.

And you now have real signs of not just potential breaking points but real breaking points. You have a situation at one of the largest Russian nuclear facilities -- at Mayak in particular -- where a guard goes berserk, kills a couple of his comrades, and runs off, heavily armed. No one's found him yet. You have a situation where a sailor goes berserk, takes over a nuclear submarine, and holds everybody at bay for 20 hours before finally committing suicide. You have a situation where five officers of the Twelfth Main Directorate, the people in charge of guarding nuclear weapons, essentially rebel and take hostages, kill a couple of people, before they're finally subdued by Ministry of Defense and Federal Security Service forces. These are very, very serious incidents at the heart of the Russian nuclear command structure.

What can we do about those kinds of things? Isn't that beyond the realm of American technology or American cooperative efforts to fix?

I don't believe that that's the case. I believe that a substantial cooperative program working with Russia, with Russian resources going into it as well, can address the technology needs for good alarm systems, surveillance cameras, and so on, can help provide alternative employment at some of these nuclear facilities that can help alleviate the economic desperation that could give people an incentive to steal, and can start putting in place a real culture of taking nuclear security seriously, of making sure that everything is secure, accounted for, monitored at all times. I believe that we can make very substantial progress in that direction with an investment that's only in the range of a few hundred million per year for a few years....

The Clinton Administration has recently placed sanctions against three Russian institutes accused of giving technical assistance to Iran....

We know that Iran has been sending agents to a wide variety of facilities in Russia, looking for the technologies of weapons of mass destruction and the missiles to carry them. And we know that in that case too, some institutes have been desperate enough to sell. The three institutes that were recently sanctioned were involved in ostensibly civilian nuclear cooperation with Iran, that could potentially play a vital role in the Iranian nuclear weapons program ... .

What role do these institutes play within the Russian defense system? Would these be the equivalent of Lawrence Livermore?

No. The institutes that were sanctioned are smaller, less directly associated with the weapons program than, for example, a nuclear weapons design institute. None of those core institutes have yet been sanctioned for the kinds of cooperation that we see with these more civilian-oriented institutes with Iran. But it is very troubling cooperation.

On the other hand, the act of placing sanctions on them will inevitably have very troubling implications for the kinds of cooperation that we need to move forward with, to improve security for nuclear material. One of the facilities sanctioned, for example, is the institute that the current Minister of Atomic Energy, who's in charge of most of the facilities in Russia where this material exists, used to direct. And the United States is sanctioning it largely for cooperation that he initiated. And yet at that same facility, we've been working very actively to try to improve the security for nuclear material ... . So a lot of these things become very complex tactical calls, when you on the one hand have cooperation [with Iran] underway that you just can't ignore, and on the other hand have cooperation of your own underway with that same institute, that's in your security interest to continue. And one has to do some very delicate balancing acts. ...

In Russia in the current environment, a lot of people are creating a lot of shell institutions for a lot of different purposes. I know of one Russian nuclear institute that has [on the order of] 200 companies associated with it in one way or another, that are, you know, doing different commercial things. And so trying to keep track of all of the Russian entities that might be involved in something like this is a full-time job and then some.

When you were at the White House, how concerned was the National Security Council over the prospect of a tactical nuclear weapon walking out of Russia and making its way to the US?

I think that while, of course, those kinds of reports were always treated very seriously and investigated with all the resources that the White House could bring to bear, nonetheless what we were hearing from the intelligence community and from our Russian colleagues was consistent, which was that the warheads themselves were much more secure, ... that the really urgent problems were with the nuclear material.

To over-simply, there was a sequence of things people were concerned about as the Soviet Union collapsed. First, when there was the coup against Gorbachev, everyone was running around saying, "Oh my God, who's got their finger on the button?" Then, when the Soviet Union collapsed, there was the question: Are we going to be faced with many countries with nuclear weapons where, before, there was only one? And so there was an enormous focus on getting all of the weapons back to Russia, out of the non-Russian states. And that is one of the great unsung success stories of the Clinton Administration, is that there are now no nuclear weapons in any of the states of the former Soviet Union other than Russia itself. Then, once everything was back to Russia and that issue was taken care of, almost contemporaneously with that, we began to see these reports of theft of genuinely weapons-usable material. There were countless incidents of theft and smuggling of nuclear materials that had nothing to do with nuclear weapons, that people were trying to pass off as real nuclear weapons materials. And a lot of people did themselves a lot of harm, carrying around intensely radioactive stuff that they were trying to sell to somebody, trying to convince them that it had something to do with a nuclear weapon, and it didn't.

But there were a small number of genuine cases of kilogram quantities of directly weapons-usable nuclear material, almost in the realm of being enough for a bomb, that did occur and that really caught the attention of the senior people and the White House. At the same time, we were getting at that time reports back from Americans who had actually visited some of these facilities and were seeing, you know, holes in the fences, and maintenance on security systems that just hadn't been done, and the lack of any detectors at the gate that would set off an alarm if someone were carrying out plutonium or highly enriched uranium under his overcoat. We began to realize that it was a huge and very alarming situation, and so we began to try to get the government to swing into action to do something about it. But getting two enormous governments to really work together on something so sensitive and so secret takes a lot of doing. And it's only today that the program has really gotten to the fast pace that it's moving at now.

Of the incidents of fissile material walking out of various places in Russia, did any ever make its way across the Atlantic?

Not as far as we know. Unfortunately, the big question is: Of what iceberg have we seen the tip? In smuggling of virtually any other commodity known to man, you're lucky if you detect 5 or 10 percent of what's actually taking place. Now, it may be that nuclear material is so much more serious, and understood to be so much more serious, that that percentage is much higher. But we just don't know that there haven't been thefts that we don't know about, that did go somewhere that we don't know about. ...

Were we ever able to confirm that suitcase bombs existed?

Not that I'm aware of. Both United States and Russia of course built tactical nuclear weapons that were quite small in size ... . We had, for example, what we called atomic demolition munitions, that were designed to be carried in a backpack. ... I doubt that there was ever anything that was specifically designed to be carried in something that looked like a suitcase, though I couldn't rule it out. My personal judgment is that there probably aren't 100 or 20 or however many suitcase bombs that are missing in the former Soviet Union, although I would guess that Lebed, when he made his initial statements, probably in good faith believed there were. The way the Russian accounting system works, everything is accounted for on paper. And there's reams of gigantic paper log books. You could easily imagine a situation where Lebed sent somebody to check at a particular facility, and there's a 19-year-old guard there, and he looks in the book and says, "Gee, there's supposed to be 100 here and it turns out there are only 30." And the reason is, there's another log book over here that the 19-year-old forgot about, that describes how many had been shipped off to such-and-such a place to be dismantled, or something like that. ...

Could [Lebed] have been talking about the backpack-size devices rather than suitcase bombs?

Sure. He could have been. I wouldn't want to speculate as to exactly what it was Lebed was trying to communicate. In some of the subsequent interviews he gave, he back-pedaled significantly and just said, "Well, it's a possibility that these things might be missing," rather than, "They are definitely missing, and here's how many are missing." So it's a bit hard for me to parse exactly what he really thinks is the situation.

Congressman Weldon said that we thought that the KGB might have commissioned a suitcase-size specimen of the small atomic demolition device, as a thing to sell to terrorists specifically. Does that wash with anything you know?

I don't think it was as something to sell to terrorists. It was something, I believe, for the KGB's use, was the claim. Alexei Yablokov made that claim in print, in the Russian press. I haven't looked at the intelligence in enough detail to follow that. But it was denied by essentially everyone in a position of authority in the Russian military and nuclear system....

What are your favorite stories from your time researching this issue and at the National Security Council?

... One of the things that has ... impressed me is the real patriotism and devotion of the Russian nuclear scientists and nuclear workers under the most appalling and unbelievable circumstances. People who were leading nuclear weapons designers, who won Hero of the Soviet Union prizes for the nuclear weapons designs that they came up with, who literally are living in one-room apartments, unable to pay the rent, can't afford a belt to hold up their pants. It's really quite depressing sometimes to see the state to which some of these really eminent people, who have really devoted their lives to something that they thought was critical to their country, have been reduced to.

I remember visiting one Russian nuclear facility where they handled plutonium. And we were walking through the areas where the plutonium had been handled, and there was dust everywhere. And of course, it wasn't plutonium dust. The plutonium is in secure boxes and so on. But I looked up on the wall, and there was a little chart where people would mark down the work that they'd done that day. You know: Today I moved a kilogram of plutonium from box A to box B and performed this operation on it. And this was in 1996, I think. And the last entry on the chart was in 1993. And they, you know, they just hadn't had the money to do anything in that particular set of rooms, for ages. And this was a facility where some really path-breaking nuclear science had once been done. ...

Since August in Russia, there has been growing anti-imperialist sentiment about Americans coming over and saying "We won the war and we're doing to de-nuclearize you," particularly since Desert Fox in December. Now we've unilaterally said we're going to renege on the Anti-Ballistic Missile Defense Treaty, although maybe we haven't quite said it in those terms. How does that affect our efforts at cooperation?

The overall US-Russian relationship is very important in how much cooperation we can do at these individual facilities. What's even more important, though, is the relationships that have been established on the ground between the US scientists and the Russian scientists who are working together. As long as those relationships are strong, often it's possible to weather some storms at the political level and keep at least some of this cooperation going, which I think is very important to our security. Nonetheless, the political storms do make a big difference.

And one of the problems that we have is that the United States and Russia see the post-cold war world very differently. The United States government basically concluded: "Well, we won the Cold War. Russia isn't anywhere near as powerful as we are any more. Russia must understand that." And so all of these old issues of balance of power, balancing how many warheads there are on each side, missile defenses, alliances expanding and so on, they shouldn't really matter that much to Russia because they know we're not going to attack, so it's not really a big issue. And we pursued all those policies, thinking that the Russians wouldn't see them as big issues.

Whereas from the Russian point of view, they felt weak, and they saw our strength growing, and they saw that as a conscious effort on our part to seize superiority while they were weak, and wanted all of the trappings of superpower equality that they had had in the old days in the arms control world. And our unwillingness to provide those trappings or to understand their need for them, or how they saw it from their perspective, that they really saw a threat to their security from us, I think, has been part of what has soured the political relationship so substantially.

Because, you know, they look at us and they see missile defenses maybe getting built. They see unwillingness to reduce our strategic weapons as fast as they would like to reduce. And they think, "Well, why do they want to keep hold of all those strategic weapons?" They see us expanding NATO in their direction, and then refusing to offer any kind of legally binding commitment that we won't even move nuclear weapons into those new NATO states, closer to their border. They see us continuing to talk about expanding NATO even further, maybe right up to their very borders, and maybe not offering any assurances that nuclear weapons won't be put into those states either. And they look at all of these things, while looking at their own strategic forces, which are in a terrible state--hardly any of them on alert at any given time, terribly vulnerable to a possible attack--and they say, "We're in a very vulnerable military situation."

And if the shoe were on the other foot, I think you would see some very great concern in the United States as well. I think it's very unlikely, as a Russian colleague pointed out to me, that if the shoe were on the other foot, that the US Senate would ratify START II, if our strategic situations were reversed. Nonetheless, I think START II is very much in Russia's interest to ratify, and I hope they do ratify it. But I think the politics would be so difficult if we faced the kind of situation the Russians face. I find it hard to imagine how you could get START II ratified in that situation. ...

Does it matter? Stan Turner last week said that because of the shift in the balance of power, arms control agreements have been made irrelevant. We can do pretty much what we want.

I think that's just wrong. I think it's very important to have a verified, controlled reduction in the number of nuclear weapons on both sides, to make sure we understand how many nuclear weapons there are, how many of them are still on alert and pointed toward us, where are the rest of them, what's being done with all of them. I think that's very, very critical, and that arms control can play a very important role in making that happen.

Are you a supporter of the proposal by Bruce Blair, the idea of de-alerting the arsenal?

I'm a supporter of de-alerting. ... I think it's quite important to reduce the hair-trigger status of nuclear forces, because they were set up that way to deal with a different world, to deal with a world where a preemptive nuclear strike was at least something that was worth worrying about and was one of the main threats that we structured our forces around. Now the main threats come not so much from Russian strength as from Russian weakness. And the notion that we should take the kind of risks involved in having not only our nuclear missiles but Russian nuclear missiles ready to launch at a moment's notice, in today's post-cold war world, where the Soviet Union no longer exists, just doesn't make sense to me. So I think we would be more secure with many, many fewer missiles on both sides able to launch at a moment's notice, and ultimately none at all able to launch at a moment's notice. ... But I think what would improve our security even more is to make sure all of the warheads and the material are secure from theft.

Former General Bill Odom told me he thought the Russians were just scaring us with all of this talk about loose nukes, not being able to dismantle their weapons on time, not knowing where stuff is, and we're buying into it. They're just suckering us out of our money.

Utter nonsense from beginning to end. Number one, the Russians, rather than telling us about these problems, largely try to deny all of these problems, and often make the argument that their material is much more secure and their weapons particularly are much more secure than US people have been saying. And they went out of their way, for example, to show General Habifer a nuclear warhead storage site and to convince him that the nuclear warheads were secure. What we're relying on in thinking about the security of Russian nuclear material is not simply what the Russians tell us, but what American experts have seen on the ground at individual facilities. And that provides us with a wealth of information that was never available before about what the specific situation at individual facilities is. And we really have quite a lot of that information available now to make judgments about what the real situation is on the ground. I've seen for myself facilities where, you know, highly enriched uranium was in basically a high school gym locker with an ordinary padlock. ... Or facilities where the fence around the area where the plutonium and highly enriched uranium was, was still being built. Facilities where they have literally tens of thousands of little stealable disks--you could slip about ten of them into your coat pocket--made of plutonium or highly enriched uranium, that they didn't even have a good list of what was in each of those disks, exactly how many of those disks there were, which ones were really plutonium and highly enriched uranium, and which ones were just aluminum or something of that nature. And that's one of the things, for example, that's being done now cooperatively, is to tag every single one of those tens of thousands of disks: give it a little bar code, measure it, see how much stuff is in it, and make sure that they're all not only secure but also accounted for.

On balance, do you feel safer now than you did in 1991, or less safe?

I think the United States is much more safe from the threat of a all-out devastating nuclear war than it was at 1991, or for decades before that. But I think, if you ask the question: What is the probability that one nuclear bomb might go off somewhere in America? Maybe a crude nuclear bomb from a terrorist or a rogue state. Is that probability higher today than it was in 1991? I think the answer is definitely yes. ...

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