POOR MAN'S NUKE: the Nightmare Scenario Catches a Second Wind

January 11, 1999

Comment: #222

Discussion Thread:  #s 216, 218, 219


[1] Steve Goldstein, NUKES ON THE LOOSE: The black market in weapons components: A Nightmare Scenario Catches A Second Wind (Profiteers try to sell to anyone willing to pay—terrorists or rogue states. First of four parts), Philadelphia Inquirer January 10, 1999, Pg. 1 Excerpt attached.

The referenced comments described the threat posed by a poor man's nuke—a radiological bomb in which a conventional shaped charge disperses a cloud of powdered plutonium oxide. They explained why it made greater sense for a terrorist or rogue state to infiltrate such a bomb in lieu of attacking the US directly with a limited nuclear missile attack. These messages also explained why squandering money on the fantasy of a perfect defensive shield (aka BMD) would actually makes our nation more vulnerable to an infiltration attack, much like the Maginot Line created a mentality that made the French more vulnerable to the German infiltration through the Ardennes in 1940.

Quite frankly, I had been hoping to get away from this depressing subject, but the attached article in the Philadelphia Inquirer requires distribution. It tells a story of past diversions and argues that smuggling of stolen enriched uranium and plutonium is probably on the increase. Note the lead—Turkish agents posing as buyers seized about 12 pounds of uranium 235 and one-quarter ounce of plutonium powder.

Read the referenced article carefully. It describes a clear and present danger, yet our nation would rather increase the already high expenditures on BMD weapons that don't work against threats that do not exist.

Dust off your Gibbon—it provides a deep insight into what is going on.

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.]


Philadelphia Inquirer
January 10, 1999
Pg. 1

NUKES ON THE LOOSE: The black market in weapons components

Profiteers try to sell to anyone willing to pay—terrorists or rogue states. First of four parts.

A Nightmare Scenario Catches A Second Wind

By Steve Goldstein, Inquirer Staff Writer


Many nuclear experts say the proliferation threat is greater now than in recent years. They say deepening economic and political upheaval in Russia has increased the likelihood that financially desperate specialists with access to nuclear material will be tempted to sell it, or that security at nuclear sites will continue to corrode as fast as the beleaguered economy …

Also troubling are attempts to smuggle and sell material that even seems to be fissile. Experts report several cases in which smugglers tried to sell material that is not weapons-usable, such as beryllium and cesium, but is still harmful and thus suitable for terrorism.

In late 1995, Chechen separatists locked in a war with Russia threatened to blow up radioactive materials they had buried in a park in Moscow. Police found a vial of cesium buried near a footpath in popular Izmailovsky Park after a Russian TV crew was directed to the site by Chechen leader Shamil Basayev. Cesium causes radiation poisoning if not handled properly.

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