Nuclear Materials for the Asking
The July 12 front-page article " Sting Reveals Security Gap at Nuclear Agency" reported that undercover investigators from the Government Accountability Office easily secured a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and contracts to purchase enough americium-241 and cesium-137 to build a "dirty bomb." This laxity in the protection of dangerous nuclear materials is alarming but is only the tip of the iceberg.
A recent study by researchers at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace gave efforts to secure nuclear materials worldwide a grade of C-minus, and Harvard University's 2006 report "Securing the Bomb" found that U.S.-funded efforts to control nuclear warheads, materials and expertise were less than half complete in almost every category of work.
In addition, the Bush administration is planning to allow the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) to expire in 2009 and with it all on-site inspection provisions for the verification of limits on Russian and U.S. nuclear weapons. In May, the assistant secretary of state responsible for this work explained to Reuters that "we don't believe we're in a place where we need . . . to have the detailed lists [of weapons] and verification measures."
The GAO's startling undercover work reminds us that this is exactly what we do need: more effective lists and verification measures to ensure that all nuclear weapons and materials are accounted for. This means we need presidential leadership to tighten domestic regulation of nuclear materials, accelerate cooperative threat reduction and extend START.
DOUGLAS B. SHAW
Director of Security Programs
Physicians for Social Responsibility