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Russia weighs heaviest on minds of nuclear experts

lt Is a nightmare scenario: rogue states or terrorists getting their hands on bomb-making material, reports EDITH LEDTRER. LONDON -

When nuclear experts worry about part of the world's 3000 tonne stockpile of bomb-making material getting into the hands of rogue states or terrorists, they worry most about Russia. That's because Russia's control over its weapons-grade plutonium and uranium is far from airtight. The Russians don't even know how much they have. So experts fear that a country like Iraq, with a history of successful clandestine activity, could steal even 200kg of nuclear material, and the Russians woWdn't know it was missing. "The nightmare of Iraq really in the future is that they will steal the material abroad - and then we will suddenly know about it when they actually have a nuclear weapom,' said David Albright, president of the Washington-based Institute for Science and Intemational Security. He is the co-author of a major study, Plutonium and highly enriched Uranium 1996: World Inventories, Capabilities and Policies, published yesterday by Oxford University Press and the Stockholm Intemational Peace Research Institute. According to the independent study, ,accounting systems for nuclear material in the former Soviet Union remain far below intemational standards, making vast nuclear stocks possible targets for theft by terrorists, criminal groups or rogue states. The three nuclear experts who co- wrote -the study urged American President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin to include the control and reduction of nuclear materials on next week's summit agenda in Helsinki. "Progress on fissile materials is just as important as arms reduction," co- author Professor William Walker of the University of St Andrews in Scotland told a news conference, 'It only takes a few kilograms of plutonium 'or highly enriched uranium to, make a bomb," he said. "We can't afford to have even a few kg leaking out' The authors called on Mr Clinton and - Mr Yeltsin to remove obstacles to negotiations on a treaty to ban further pro- duction of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium, to accelerate progranunes to reduce stocks of nuclear mateial and to negotiate a treaty leading to intemational inspections of excess stocks. According to the study, 1750 tonnes of highly enriched uranium and 230 tonnes of plutonium have been produced for military purposes, by by the United States and Russia. But less than 1 per cent is under international control. The authors estimate that under 400 tonnes are now required to sustain the nuclear arsenals of the five declared nuclear powers - the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China but they said nuclear weapon states are resisting calls to declare the remaining 1600 tonnes as excess. AP

Lebed claims 100 suitcase bombs missing each capable of killing 100,000

NEW YORK 6-9-97 Former Russian National Security Adviser General Alexander Lebed says the Russian military has lost track of more than 100 suitcase-sized nuclear bombs, any one of which could kill up to 100,000 people. In an interview with CBS News' 60 Minutes programme, to be aired this weekend in the United States, General Lebed said the devices "are not under the control of the armed forces of Russia." Last May he said at a private briefing to a delegation of United States congressmen that he believed 84 of the one-kiloton bombs were unaccounted for. In the interview with 60 Minutes, conducted two weeks ago, General Lebed said he now believes the figure to be more than 100. "Can you imagine,what would happen psychologically, morally, if this weapon is detonated in a big city? ... About 50 to 70,000 people, up to 100,000 people would be lulled." General Lebed said he did not know what had happened to the missing bombs, but he was certain they were not under the control of the Russian militaly. "I'm saying that more than 100 weapons out of the supposed number of 250 are not under the controi of the armed forces of Russia." "I don't know their location. I don't know whether they have been destroyed or whether they are stored or whether they've been sold or stolen, I don't know. Asked if it were possible that the authorities did know where all the weapons were and simply did not want to tell him, he said, No." Russia's Defence Ministry yesterday denied his remarks. "As a representative of the Defence Ministry I declare there are no nuclear bombs in Russia out of control of the Russian armed forces," Vladimir Uvatenko, a spokesman for the Defence Ministry, said by telephone. 'This statement by Alexander Ivanovich [Lebed] can cause nothing but a smile he never dealt with nuclear security questions and cannot know the situation," Mr Uvatenko said. REUTERS

Fears over plutonium. in space

Lobbyist Alyn Ware wants the plutononium- powered Cassini space probe grounded. Nasa says the chances of an accident-are remote but so, Ware tells PAT BASKeft, were they at Chernobyl.

The world has almost (almost) become used to nuclear-powered ships (except in our backyard) and we know there are some nukes in space. After October, when Nasa launches, its Cassini space probe, another 32.9kg of radioactive material, plutonium-238, will be floating in infinity. This is not the first time a probe has Alyn Ware used pjutonium to fuel its nuclear reactors but previous amounts have been much smaller. Cassini is headed ultimately for Saturn. In 1999 it will gain velocity by orbiting Venus twice and then it will speed straight back towards the Earth. When it is just 5OOkm away it will IMng around the planet and, using centrifugal force, propel itself on towards Saturn. The risks involved in the project were sev- eral, said Alyn Ware. He dotted in to, his Tauranga home this month on lexre from his job in New York as executive dir6ctor of the Intema- tional Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy. The lawyers' group was one of those whose hard work resulted in the landmark decision exactly a year ago by the Intemational Court of Justice in the Hague on the illegality of the use and threat of use of nuclear weapons. The 14 judges qualified their declaration by saying they could not reach a definite conclu- sion in cases of "extreme circumstances where the very survival of a state was at stake." But the most significant part of their statement, said Mr Ware, was their unanimous declaration that all states are under a solentn obligation "to bring to a successful conclusion negotiations leading to circcumstances where the very survival of a state was at stake." But the most significant part of their statement, said Mr Ware, was their unanimous declaration that all states are under a solemn obligation "to bring to a successful conclusion negotiations leading to total abolition of all nuclear weapons." As well as fuelling nuclear reactors plutonium is used to make nuclear weapons. It is one of the most polluting substances known' " The International Court recognised the very peculiar and potent threat that nuclear weapons and their production pose to "the global commons." Until now under. international law, explained Mr Ware, what was not expressly prohibited was permitted. 'But this decision shows that that concept is changing. Now the onus is on states to prove that what they are doing is not damaging." The anti nuclear lobby in the United States has picked up this aspect of the ruling to urge Nasa to postpone the Cassini project until safer fuels can be used. It says the Titan TV rocket which will launch the probe has on several occasions, the last tim bein when one exploded in California, destroying a $NZ1.5 billion spy satellite system. If the rocket carrying the Cassini probe explodes plutonium would be scattered over parts of Florida. According to Nasa's. "final environmental impact statement on the Cassini any miscalculation, however slight, could cause the craft to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere when it circles the planet before heading for Satum. If it did so, half the population could be exposed to radiation. "The implications are," Mr Ware said, "that the United States shouldn't send Cassini up. We believe that the possibilities of an accident are about one in 20." Nasa estimates the chance of the rocket exploding on launch and releasing plutonium into the air at one in 1500. The plutonium is in the form of super-hardened ceramic chunks that can't be inhaled. Moreover, say safety officials, Cassini will ride atop an unmanned rocket, urdike the Gallileo and Ulysses missions which rode on shuttles. Mr Ware said this did not allow for the ask of more than one mistake occurring in combination. "Chemobyl shouldn't have happened. It. did because a combination of things went wrong." When he left New Zealand, Mr Ware was headed for Geneva to work for an intemational convention on nuclear weapons similar to-that which finally banned chemical and biological weapons. In December the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for such a convention with 115 countries, including New Zealand, voting in favour, 22 against and 32 abstaining. The plutonium or enriched uranium required for nuclear weapons are hard to manufacture and relatively easy to verify. This could be done under a convention which would establish a system including routine inspections, with fixed on-site sensors, satellite photography, radionuclide sampling and other remote sensors. "Production of plutonium and entiched uranium would be prohibited and the use of current stockpiles of these in reactors would be discouraged," Mr Ware said.