Safeguard Uranium In Old Soviet Union

The chill in relations between the United States and Russia has one very unpleasant side-effect, as an incident this week in Slovakia demonstrates. There, police arrested two Hungarians and a Ukrainian, who are accused of attempting to find a buyer for about a pound of powdered uranium.

Though that amount of uranium is not enough to produce a nuclear explosive device, it could be used to make a “dirty bomb” — one in which conventional explosives spread highly-toxic radioactive material. Any number of terrorist organizations would love to get their hands on the powdered uranium for that purpose.

Details of the scheme still are sketchy, but it appears that the uranium was obtained from somewhere in the old Soviet Union. Several of the new countries created when the old Evil Empire disintegrated have nuclear weapons facilities where security is, in some cases, virtually non-existent. Russia is a key concern in that regard.

Even during the brief period when cooperation between Russia, the United States and other nations was relatively good, concern about security at uranium storage facilities was great. Russia and the other former Soviet states simply didn’t have the resources to provide adequate safeguards. Officials in countries with large stocks of nuclear weapons and uranium even then were leery of cooperating too closely with the West. Now, with relations between Washington and Moscow under new strain, the worry is heightened.

One part of the story about the arrest in Slovakia is of particular interest. It is that, as of Thursday, officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency were admitting that they had virtually no information concerning the source of the stolen uranium.

Security at uranium storage sites in the old Soviet Union is a concern for the entire world, in view of the reach of terrorist organizations. Addressing that concern needs to be a priority for the international community.