Nucs on the Loose (Part II)

January 13, 1999

Comment: #224

Discussion Thread:  #s 216, 218, 219, 222


[1] Steve Goldstein, "NUKES ON THE LOOSE: Russia's Dejected Scientists See Bomb Skills As Ticket Out," Philadelphia Inquirer, January 11, 1999. Excerpt Attached.

Reference #1 is the second in a four-part series of reports now running in the Philadelphia Inquirer [Part 1, which discussed past diversions, is contained in Comment # 222]. Like the information in Andrew and Leslie Cockburns book, One Point Safe, and David Hoffman's recent series in the Washington Post [attached to #s 216 & 218], this report is another cry in the political wilderness.

Steve Goldstein tells us of the rapidly deteriorating conditions in Russia by taking us on a tour of the personal perspectives of the scientists and weapons designers whose world has collapsed -- he describes how many of these people subsist on starvation wages, often not being paid at all. Their own comments tell us their privations are making them much easier targets for terrorists or a rogue states to exploit in their efforts to smuggle fissile materials and technical skills out of Russia. Desperate people will do desperate things to eat or save their families. The report concludes by describing the pathetic efforts being made to deal with this problem.

We have heard much of this before, but still, the politicians would rather spend money on weapons that don't work as defenses against threats that don't exist. This horror story bears repeating, because loose nukes infiltrated into the US, be they in the form of simple radiological bombs (plutonium dust distributed by conventional explosive) or primitive uranium bombs, clearer and more present danger to United States than a limited ballistic missile attack.

Refer to the end of Comment #216 for an outline of a political strategy for dealing with this problem.

Chuck Spinney

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, the following material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]

-------------------[ Attachment #1]------------------ Philadelphia Inquirer January 11, 1999


Russia's Dejected Scientists See Bomb Skills As Ticket Out

Second of four parts

By Steve Goldstein, Inquirer Staff Writer


Nuclear technician Alexander N. Propletin works in Building 116 at the Kurchatov Institute, Russia's most prestigious nuclear-research facility.

Not far from his desk, behind a massive steel door, are sealed brown lockers containing 104 kilograms of weapons-grade, highly enriched uranium. It is more than enough material to build a dozen nuclear bombs capable of killing or sickening millions of people. Propletin, a sallow, sharp-featured man of 45, has the same access to the uranium as Russia's leading nuclear physicists. He is paid 420 rubles a month, or about $35. That is half the $70 his salary was worth before Aug. 17, the day the ruble was devalued and Russia's economy began sinking into chaos.

Propletin's last paycheck came in late September -- for June's wages.