Racing with jihadists to find nuclear material.
“A team of experts is battling to retrieve tons of nuclear material before terrorists do. But time’s running out…,” by Julian Borger in the Daily Mail, September 5 (thanks to Alexandra):
A little before dawn on a recent summer morning, three large blue lorries, a handful of police cars and a bus rumbled along the dual carriageway heading north out of the Bulgarian capital of Sofia.
The lorries were unmarked, the bus carrying a few sleepy policemen was old and scruffy, while the lumbering shipment was big and slow enough to explain the escort and its flashing blue lights.
But for Bulgaria, and indirectly for the rest of us, the convoy’s progress marked an important transition – the departure of the country’s last remaining stockpile of High-Enriched Uranium (HEU), the stuff nuclear bombs are made of.
It took two years of talks and work before the highly radioactive material – just over 6kg of spent fuel from a defunct research reactor – was fished out of the storage pools in which it had lain unused and largely forgotten for nearly 20 years. It was sealed in steel casks and lowered onto the three trucks.
During the morning of July 5, the convoy made its way over the mountains and down to the banks of the Danube, where the containers were winched aboard a black barge bound for Ukraine.
Ten days and a rail journey later, the HEU arrived in Russia, from where it had come nearly half a century earlier as a gift. In Chelyabinsk, just east of the Ural Mountains, it is to be reprocessed or blended down.
I was allowed to witness its secret journey as long as nothing was printed until the shipment reached its destination, and this small but lethal fragment of the Cold War was made safe.
Its journey was part of a programme between the U.S. and Russia in happier times, in the window of co-operation that followed the Cold War – a window that is now rapidly closing.
Russia’s own HEU was never part of this and there now seems little chance it will be any time soon. If relations get much worse, the whole scheme could be frozen.
A joint effort to make the world safer could unravel – one of the many toxic by-products of the crisis in the Caucasus.
The operation I saw was part of an accelerating scramble to clean up the scattered legacy of nuclear profligacy in a race against a new and terrifying threat: nuclear terrorism….