Nu­clear dan­gers

The Washington Times Weekly - - National Security -

down­size the scope of the Of­fice of De­tainee Af­fairs and shift the of­fice to the con­trol of a dif­fer­ent as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of de­fense, spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent Rowan Scar­bor­ough re­ports.

A de­fense of­fi­cial said the re­or­ga­ni­za­tion is be­ing eyed in light of the fact that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has moved ma­jor de­ci­sion-mak­ing on de­tainees from the Pen­tagon to the Jus­tice Depart­ment. of­fi­cer who headed the Obama cam­paign’s out­reach to mil­i­tary vet­er­ans, has been men­tioned as the next de­tainee of­fice chief. William H. Tobey, un­til re­cently the En­ergy Depart­ment’s deputy ad­min­is­tra­tor for de­fense nu­clear non­pro­lif­er­a­tion at the Na­tional Nu­clear Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion, stated re­cently that the dan­ger of ter­ror­ists ob­tain­ing nu­clear ma­te­rial for a bomb is real.

Mr. Tobey said U.S. aid to Rus­sia has helped se­cure nu­clear fa­cil­i­ties but con­cerns re­main about nu­clear ma­te­rial be­ing stolen or smug­gled out of the coun­try. “There are re­search re­ac­tor sites in Rus­sia that use highly en­riched ura­nium; they re­main a con­cern,” he told the Wis­con­sin Project on Nu­clear Arms Con­trol.

On ter­ror­ists seek­ing nu­clear ma­te­rial, Mr. Tobey said: “I don’t think you can sep­a­rate ter­ror­ists and non­pro­lif­er­a­tion is­sues. We’re wor­ried about the ma­te­rial fall­ing into the hands of ter­ror­ists, but we’re also wor­ried about it fall­ing into the hands of na­tion-states that would pur­sue il­licit weapon pro­grams.”

In Rus­sia, the threat of nu­cle­ar­ma­te­rial smug­gling de­pends on the type of fa­cil­ity, he said. “If you’re talk­ing about re­search re­ac­tors, it’s prob­a­bly less likely that it would be an in­sider threat,” Mr. Tobey said. “But if you’re talk­ing about other, larger, fa­cil­i­ties where weapons-us­able ma­te­rial is han­dled, an in­sider threat would prob­a­bly be more acute. We know from ex­pe­ri­ence that bulk ma­te­rial is more vul­ner­a­ble to theft by in­sid­ers.”

One of the key ques­tions for those seek­ing to pre­vent the use of a ter­ror­ist bomb is whether the ori­gin of the ma­te­rial can be traced af­ter one is set off.

Asked if a nu­clear bomb det­o­nated in the United States could be traced, Mr. Tobey said, “At this point I think there’s an ex­cel­lent chance that we would be able to de­ter­mine phys­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics which would point to the ori­gin of ma­te­rial that went off in a bomb. But th­ese things take time. It’s not some­thing that could be done overnight. More­over, even if the coun­try of ori­gin of such ma­te­rial is known with cer­tainty, it does not nec­es­sar­ily ex­plain how it came to be in a weapon that det­o­nated. Was it, for ex­am­ple, used di­rectly by a na­tion-state, sold by a na­tion-state to a third party, or stolen by a third party?”

Gary Mil­hollin, di­rec­tor of the Wis­con­sin Project, said Mr. Tobey’s dis­clo­sure that Rus­sian re­search re­ac­tor sites re­main vul­ner­a­ble is wor­ri­some.

“Th­ese sites prob­a­bly con­tain many bombs’ worth of highly en­riched ura­nium in the form of fresh re­ac­tor fuel,” Mr. Mil­hollin said. “It would in­crease every­one’s se­cu­rity to have this ma­te­rial fully pro­tected. [. . . ] The new ad­min­is­tra­tion should make it a high pri­or­ity to pro­tect th­ese sites. It is the one ob­vi­ous thing we can do to re­duce the risk of weapon­ready nu­clear ma­te­rial fall­ing into the wrong hands.”

Bill Gertz cov­ers na­tional se­cu­rity af­fairs. He can be reached at 202/636-3274, or at in­sid­e­ther­ing@wash­ing­ton­times.com.

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