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Also, it should not be assumed that terrorist groups or their state sponsors will not have access to top-notch nuclear weapons designers, if the price is right. As economic conditions worsen in the former Soviet Union, the incentives for poorly-paid or unpaid nuclear weapons designers to defect from Russian weapons labs increases.

As to the need for nuclear-capable delivery systems, there is no reason why a terrorist group would need a missile or a bomber to deliver a nuclear weapon. A conventional vehicle such as a truck or a boat would suffice for even a fairly heavy weapon constructed from a first- generation design.25

James Woolsey, U.S. director of central intelligence, expressed concern about the possibility of extremists acquiring fissile material from the former Soviet republics.

"Asked if the world would soon see a 'terrorist-owned' nuclear weapon, Woolsey told CNN: 'It's not impossible and it is one of our greatest concerns.'"26

5. Isn't the HEU and plutonium threat confined to the former Soviet republics because of the collapse of controls over fissile materials after the Cold War?

Most of the concern about a nuclear black market has been focused on the former Soviet republics as the result of the recent seizures of smuggled weapons-usable material. However, several other nations possess enormous amounts of such materials in civilian programs that are subject to weak IAEA safeguards and questionable physical-security controls.

For example, large amounts of weapons-grade HEU have been exported by the U.S. for use in research reactors within the European Union (whose joint nuclear energy agency is known as Euratom). About 13 metric tons of U.S.-origin HEU remain in Euratom, at least two metric tons of which is in fresh, unirradiated form.27 Under the terms of the U.S. nuclear-cooperation agreement with Euratom, the U.S. has no control over retransfers of such HEU within Euratom and is uninformed of the precise whereabouts of some of it.

U.S. law requires that any new agreement with Euratom provide a guarantee that no U.S.- origin HEU (or plutonium) "will be stored in any facility that has not been approved in advance by the United States"---a condition that Euratom is strongly resisting in the ongoing negotiation of a new nuclear-cooperation agreement.28 Some research reactor operators within Euratom have refused to cooperate with an international program initiated by the U.S. to develop and to substitute low-enriched, non-weapons-usable uranium fuel. One Euratom reactor was found to be vulnerable to terrorist attack during a mock exercise conducted by Dutch marines.29

The dimensions of the plutonium problem are even greater and more startling. If civilian plutonium programs proceed as planned, some 545 metric tons of plutonium will be separated from the spent fuel of nuclear power reactors by the year 2010, of which at least 265 metric tons will be stockpiled as surplus.30 Most of the plutonium will be recovered in facilities within Euratom.31 These amounts far exceed the approximately 200 metric tons of plutonium now in the nuclear arsenals of the United States and the former Soviet Union combined.

Japan pursues the world's largest and most ambitious civilian plutonium program. A sea shipment of 1.7 metric tons of plutonium from France in 1992 provoked an international outcry. Under current plans, Japan will acquire over 100 metric tons of plutonium by 2010. Given substantial delays in Japan's development of breeder reactors, a large surplus of separated plutonium will arise by the end of the century to the consternation of Japan's neighbors, despite Japan's insistence that it will not allow plutonium supply to exceed demand.

At one Japanese plutonium fuel plant, some 70 kilograms of plutonium, equivalent to at least eight weapons, has not been accounted for, and Japan has been resisting requests by the IAEA to clean out the plant and measure the plutonium.32 At a commercial reprocessing plant Japan is about to build, the IAEA's safeguards system will tolerate a shortfall of 250 kilograms (550 pounds) of plutonium a year--- the best the agency can do because of the large uncertainty of its measurements.33

The problem of civilian plutonium was highlighted recently by an expert panel of the National Academy of Sciences that was convened to examine options for disposing of plutonium from dismantled nuclear weapons. According to the NAS report, "Roughly 80 to 90 tons of excess separated civilian plutonium are in store around the world today, representing more than half of all the civil plutonium that has ever been separated from spent fuel. That figure is expected to grow, as more civilian plutonium continues to be separated each year than is used in reactor fuel."34 The NAS panel emphasized that civilian- plutonium problem should not be ignored.

". . . [S]teps should be taken to reduce the proliferation risks posed by all of the world's plutonium stocks . . . the need for such steps exists already, and will increase with time."35

Thus, it fairly can be said that the fissile material threat does not come only from Russia and other former Soviet republics. Production and use of plutonium and HEU needs to be halted worldwide.

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End Notes

25. Mark et al., 1987, op cit., p. 55. Back to document

26. Stamp, 1994, op cit. Back to document

27. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Report to Congress on the Disposition of Highly Enriched Uranium Previously Exported by the United States, Washington, D.C., January 1993, p. 2. Back to document

28. 42 USC 2153 (a)(8). Back to document

29. "Petten Reactor an Attractive Target for Terrorist Activities," Schager Courant, February 7, 1991 (Translation from Dutch by the Congressional Research Service). The article reported that "[i]n 1988, a group of Marines carried out a 'terrorist raid' to test the surveillance at the Petten reactor. In seven minutes the raiders were in the vault where the fissionable material was kept."Back to document

30. David Albright, Frans Berkhout and William Walker, World Inventory of Plutonium and Highly Enriched Uranium 1992, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and Oxford University Press, 1993, Table 7.7, p. 142. Back to document

31. About 86 percent of all civilian plutonium that is planned to be separated worldwide between 1990 and 2002 will be processed in facilities in France and Great Britain. Albright et al., 1993, op cit., Table 6.7, p. 109.Back to document

32. Mark Hibbs, "IAEA Gives Japan Till 1995 to Account for Holdup Inventory at PFPF Plant," NuclearFuel, October 10, 1994, pp. 12-14. Back to document

33. See Marvin Miller, "Are IAEA Safeguards on Plutonium Bulk-Handling Facilities Effective?," Nuclear Control Institute, August 1990; and Paul Leventhal, "IAEA Safeguards Shortcomings---A Critique," Nuclear Control Institute, September 12, 1994. Back to document

34. Committee on International Security and Arms Control, National Academy of Sciences, Management and Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1994, p. 28. Back to document

35. Ibid., p. 222. Back to document