Washington, March 14 (RFE/RL) - A panel of U.S. experts says
"the number-one threat to American national security today is loose
nuclear weapons and weapons-usable material from Russia."
The threat is not posed by Russia itself or any other Soviet
successor states, the experts say, but instead, they say the danger
is the real possibility that nuclear materials "will soon fall into
the hands of a rogue state or terrorist groups."
The conclusions were contained in a report released in Washington on
Wednesday by the Harvard University Center for Science and
International Affairs. Similar concerns were raised in a report
released Tuesday by the U.S. Government's General Accounting Office.
The U.S. Senate is conducting hearings this week on the issue and on
what measures the U.S. should take.
The Harvard report blamed the existence of the threat on conditions
in the former Soviet Union.
"The continuing collapse of all central control systems in Russia
and the former Soviet Union leaves everything there vulnerable to
theft, seizure or loss," the report said. "Russia is now in a state
of revolution that has freed individuals to do whatever they choose.
Elimination of all traditional constraints combines with rampant
criminalization to threaten chaos. In today's Russia, every item of
value is vulnerable."
Graham Allison, an expert on the former Soviet Union and a co-author
of the Harvard study, told a press conference that the risk to
Russian security is also grave. He said that separatist organizations
or criminal gangs could fashion a weapon to threaten Moscow.
Allison said that only a small amount of nuclear material could
cause a catastrophe. He said that a terrorist with a grapefruit-size
quantity of highly enriched uranium, or plutonium the size of a
child's ball, and equipment available from any electronics store
could make "a serious nuclear device."
He said that if such a device had been used in the terrorist
bombing of New York City's World Trade Center, "the lower part of
Manhattan would have disappeared."
The Harvard report said the amount of nuclear material in the former
Soviet Union means the threat cannot be overstated.
"One hundred thousand nuclear weapons and weapons-usable nuclear
equivalents of highly enriched uranium and plutonium remain scattered
across several hundred locations in Russia and the former Soviet
Union," the report said. "These include weapons storage depots,
weapons dismantlement sites, research labs and facilities now closed
at which nuclear fabrication or research previously occurred.
Security at most of these facilities is poor."
The General Accounting Office report said the former Soviet Union
has stockpiled about 1,400 metric tons of plutonium and highly
enriched uranium. The stores in Russia and the newly independent
states are growing as missiles are dismantled, but authorities lack
the resources to guard them.
"Much of this material is outside of nuclear weapons, is highly
attractive to theft, and the newly independent states may not have
accurate and complete inventories of the material they inherited,"
the Government report said.
The Harvard University experts suggested several immediate steps
that the U.S. Government should take to protect itself from the
First, they said the President, the Congress and concerned citizens
must make the issue the top priority for the U.S. security agenda.
Next, the U.S. should seek to convince Russia to make the issue a top
priority in its relations with the U.S. and the West.
"But since Russian leaders are overwhelmed by the challenge of
surviving today and cannot afford to focus on the future," the report
said, "U.S. policymakers must help Russia perceive the problem and
must facilitate a joint program of action to contain the problem."
The Harvard panel suggested that the U.S. and its allies purchase
and remove the material from Russia to place it "beyond the reach of
Finally, the panel said the remaining material in Russia "must be
concentrated and protected in all the ways any other object of high
value or danger has to be under conditions of collapsing control,
increasing lawlessness, growing desperation of the guardians and