January 28, 2007
Chicago Tribune

Cold War's Deadly Legacy

Atoms for Peace debacle triggers global quest to regain bomb fuel

by Sam Roe

The specter of nuclear warfare waged by North Korea or Iran has hung over the world in recent months. But beyond that fear and foreboding looms a more far-reaching threat: the vast amount of nuclear bomb-grade material scattered across the globe.

And it wasn't Kim Jong Il or the ayatollahs of Iran who put it there. America did.

For a time, in a misguided Cold War program called Atoms for Peace, the U.S. actually supplied this material--highly enriched uranium, a key component of nuclear weapons. The Soviets followed suit.

The threat still posed by these stockpiles, particularly in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, is so dire that the keepers of the Doomsday Clock cited the issue as among their chief concerns this month when they moved the iconic measure of global security closer to midnight.

Just last week, Georgian authorities disclosed they had caught a Russian man trying to sell uranium he had hidden in two plastic bags in his pocket--an unsettling reminder of how easy it is to smuggle this dangerous material.

Yet decades of fitful commitment by the U.S. government to retrieve bomb-grade uranium have left the world no safer, a Tribune investigation has found. Today, roughly 40 tons of the material remains out of U.S. control--enough to make more than 1,400 nuclear weapons. . . .

Romania is but one example in a world that reverberates from the fallout of the United States' Cold War folly known as Atoms for Peace, a program that distributed highly enriched uranium around the world.

That uranium was intended solely to be used as fuel in civilian research reactors. But it is potent enough to make nuclear bombs and can be found everywhere from Romania, now a crossroads for nuclear smuggling, to an Iranian research reactor at the center of that nation's controversial nuclear program.

Three dozen other nations also obtained highly enriched uranium from the U.S. Then in 1974 India set off its first nuclear weapon, and America scrambled to get the bomb fuel back . . .


Robert Jensen, "You Call This 'Civilized?': Bush's Nuclear Hypocrisy," The Wisdom Fund, February 12, 2004

Tony Benn, "U.S., Britain's 'Total Hypocrisy' on Nuclear Energy," Democracy Now!, March 10, 2006

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