Nuclear Terrorism protection.(COMMENTARY)
Byline: Brett Wagne, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The events of September 11 sent an urgent wake up call that the United States should take very seriously the continuing efforts by terrorist groups to acquire nuclear weapons. Fortunately, Sen. Pete V. Domenici, New Mexico Republican, has heard that call and introduced a bill that could help prevent a nuclear September 11.
The State Department currently lists more than a dozen rogue states and terrorist organizations, including Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda, that are actively seeking nuclear weapons.
Russia's vast and undersecured stockpiles of excess fissile materials represent the most likely potential source of terrorist nuclear capability. According to U.S. intelligence agencies, Russian criminal groups are already supplying al Qaeda with components for nuclear weapons. All that's missing is the nuclear material itself.
In the days following the September 11 attacks, Russia's Federal Security Service reportedly thwarted an attempt by one of these criminal groups to sell stolen or diverted nuclear weapon-grade material to an unidentified buyer.
For several years, Russia has been hinting that it would be interested in selling these same nuclear materials to the United States for peaceful uses. Unfortunately, these hints have usually fallen on deaf ears.
Now, thanks to Mr. Domenici's leadership, we stand at the threshold of just such an agreement, and the timing could not be more critical.
Russia's Cold War-era nuclear stockpiles, which include 700 to 800 tons of highly enriched uranium and 150 to 200 tons of weapon-grade plutonium, pose a growing risk because of serious gaps in Moscow's nuclear security. Many of these scattered stockpiles are stored in makeshift warehouses, protected only by $5 combination locks or the equivalent. Small amounts of these materials have already been confiscated by European law enforcement officials from sellers looking for buyers.
It would take only 15 to 20 pounds of this uranium, or an even smaller amount of plutonium, to arm a device capable of leveling downtown Washington or lower Manhattan. Iraq and the terrorist group Islamic Jihad have each reportedly offered Russian workers enormous sums of money for enough nuclear material to produce a single weapon.
The blueprints and non-nuclear components necessary to build crude but highly effective nuclear weapons are readily available. The only component prohibitively difficult to develop or acquire is the nuclear material.
There is no reliable way of keeping a nuclear weapon or contraband from being smuggled into U. …