‘Theft of Russian nuclear material has occurred’
WASHINGTON: US intelligence agencies have concluded that theft of radioactive materials from Russia’s nuclear complex “has occurred” and the country’s atomic power plants remain vulnerable to terrorist attack, according to a new intelligence report obtained late Tuesday.
The unpublished analysis by the National Intelligence Council, a CIA-based think tank that serves the entire US intelligence community, came as US President George W Bush prepared for a potentially contentious meeting Thursday with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.
The two leaders are expected to discuss in Bratislava what is seen here as flaws in the Russian democratic process as well as non-proliferation issues, including the security of Moscow’s nuclear stockpile. Russian officials have repeatedly denied terrorist groups could get access to either Russian nuclear weapons or weapons-grade materials.
But in its report to Congress, an unclassified version of which was obtained by AFP, the council cast doubt on these assurances.
“We assess that undetected smuggling has occurred, and we are concerned about the total amount of material that could have been diverted or stolen in the last 13 years,” the report said.
The Russian nuclear arsenal is estimated to currently include about 4,000 warheads deployed on land- and sea-based ballistic missiles and strategic bombers.
But Moscow also retains several thousand non-strategic nuclear warheads in storage, plus a network of production and research facilities dealing with fissile substances, according to US officials.
The US intelligence community, according to the report, retains high confidence in safeguards built around battle-ready weapons. But, said the council, “we continue to be concerned about vulnerabilities to an insider who attempts unauthorized actions as well as potential terrorist attacks.”
Suspected terrorists have already shown their interest in the Russian nuclear arsenal, according to the report. afp