Bradley Graham's Sept. 25 article, "Weaknesses Found in Nuclear Safeguards," took a negative line regarding management of the Department of Energy's program to improve the security of Russian nuclear materials. It overplayed concerns expressed in the department's inspector general report and didn't mention circumstances surrounding the concerns.

First, the article reported the inspector general finding that program funds were spent to protect nuclear material such as low enriched uranium that does not pose an immediate proliferation risk. Far from a management flaw, these demonstration projects have often led to expanded cooperation covering the most sensitive sites and materials in Russia's atomic complex.

This same approach is responsible for the program's rapidly expanding cooperation with the Russian navy, and for the Russian navy's request during Energy Secretary Bill Richardson's recent trip to Russia for additional security assistance at its highly sensitive facilities.

Second, the article reported on the inspector general's concern that Department of Energy officials lack access to verify the installation of security equipment. However, the report shows that the sites in question are Russian nuclear warhead production and dismantlement plants, the most sensitive sites in the Russian nuclear complex.

U.S. officials who developed the security systems for these sites created indirect ways to ensure that delivered equipment was installed and operative. These methods are not foolproof, but a high-level decision was made that the security benefit of installing these monitors was enough to justify the risk. The article, however, leaves an impression that no one knew or cared whether this equipment was ever installed or used.

Third, the article repeated the inspector general's conclusion that the rapid growth in program activity from nine sites in 1994 to 53 in 1999 has created oversight problems. The program has had difficulties recruiting personnel because of adverse working conditions in Russia and bureaucratic governmental hiring practices.

Nevertheless, the inspector general report notes that no funds have been misappropriated for nonapproved purposes. In addition, mechanisms had been put in place by program management to address every major criticism in the report before the inspector general began his investigation.




Todd Perry is Washington representative for arms control at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Jon B. Wolfsthal is an associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.