Nuclear Weapons

What Could Go Wrong?

This should serve as a healthy portion of Humble Pie, but it probably won't. Unfortunately.

The United States could only account for 1,160 out of 17,500 kilograms of Highly-Enriched Uranium (HEU) -- weapon-usable nuclear material -- exported to 27 countries in response to a 1992 congressional mandate, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released last week. [...]

In another disquieting revelation, the GAO pointed out that in the 55 visits from 1994 through 2010, U.S. teams found that countries who received nuclear components met international security guidelines only about 50 percent of the time.

"The agencies have not systematically visited countries believed to be holding the highest proliferation risk quantities of U.S. nuclear material, or systematically revisited facilities not meeting international physical security guidelines in a timely manner," the GAO report warned.

We can only account for 1,160 out of 17,500 kilograms of highly-enriched uranium, but don't worry, as long as the TSA continues coping a feel, preventing you from taking water and lotion onto the airplane, and forcing you to remove your shoes, we can assure your safety.

How can we lecture countries such as Iran, with any measure of credibility, while we can't even keep track of or properly secure our nuclear materials?

It should be noted that over the course of the last 9 months, the Republicans have repeatedly threatened the authority and the funding of the Department of Energy which is responsible for regulating such things. Some have even called for dissolving the Department of Energy and rolling its responsibilities into the Department of Defense, as if that would somehow improve things.

I have no doubt the Republican response to this would be something along the lines of "See? Government doesn't work. We should abolish the Department of Energy" while ignoring the fact that the agencies responsible for oversight of nuclear materials are woefully underfunded. And it's the Republicans who are the biggest warhawks concerning Iran's nuclear ambitions.

  • holyreality

    1160 / 17 500 = 0.0662857143*100=6.62%

    Now how can we fix this travesty?

    Tax cuts for billionaires of course

  • muselet

    Well …

    From the GAO report:

    DOE, NRC, and State are not able to fully account for U.S. nuclear material overseas that is subject to nuclear cooperation agreement terms because the agreements do not stipulate systematic reporting of such information, and there is no U.S. policy to pursue or obtain such information.


    … [DOE’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative] reported that over 10,000 kilograms of U.S. HEU are believed to be in fuels from reactors in Germany, France, and Japan that have no disposition pathways in the United States and are adequately protected. In addition, according to GTRI, 2,000 kilograms of transferred U.S. HEU are located primarily in European Atomic Energy Community countries and are currently in use or adequately protected.


    … IAEA, DOE, NRC, and State officials told us that IAEA’s safeguards activities provide a level of assurance that nuclear material is accounted for at partner facilities. The safeguards system, which has been a cornerstone of U.S. efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation, allows IAEA to independently verify that non-nuclear weapons states that signed the NPT are complying with its requirements.

    I’m not saying this is much ado about nothing, but it does seem to be too much ado. Remember this inequality:

    unaccounted-for ≠ stolen.


    (Oh, and the Rs will absolutely use this report as an excuse to run around squealing that this is all the fault of Obama, ACORN, the Department of Energy, socialism and Fannie and Freddy, and that we should bomb Iran. Just another Wednesday, in other words.)

    • JMAshby

      When dealing with weapons-grade nuclear material, I don’t think you should trust that unaccounted != stolen.

      • muselet

        I’m not saying don’t be concerned. I’m saying don’t panic.


    • holyreality

      “Used up in European reactors” would certainly account for something, and I’d trust that these reactors would document which materials track to what reactors actually used them as fuel.

      Paper trails are easy to follow, if 93.8% cannot be accounted for, that must mean the trail leads to oblivion.

      Panic is when we accept rights lost to laws that “protect” us, when the fight of flight reflex overwhelms our sensibilities.

      Don’t panic I agree with, thanks.

  • Bob Rutledge

    Far from knowledgeable, but a quick Google shows that one would need around 25kg to achieve “critical mass” — you know, big boom mushroom cloud. So that means there’s 650+ bombs’ worth unaccounted for.

    Holy Fuck.

    • holyreality

      Or even more dirty bombs.