Physics and Society Jan '96 - Reviews

Volume 26, Number 1 January 1997


The Nuclear Black Market, Global Organized Crime Project
Center for Strategic and International Affairs, Washington, DC
ISBN 0-89206-287-8, 60 pages, $17

The Nuclear Black Market (NBM) Task Force concludes the "security of weapons-usable materials in the Former Soviet Union (FSU) to be poor." In 1994, Germany found 182 "believed-true" cases of nuclear smuggling within Germany. Also in 1994, 2.7 kg of 88% enriched uranium was recovered in Prague. But 1995 was reportedly much better. Before the FSU collapsed, the KGB was able to use terror to control fissile materials, and nuclear safeguards were not as necessary as they are now. The NBM Task Force concludes that "Progress (on enhancing nuclear safeguards) has been glacial." The tip of this glacial iceberg is revealed in the statement of a military prosecutor who investigated the theft of fuel rods from a naval facility in Murmansk: "... even potatoes are sometimes better protected nowadays than radioactive materials... officers and specialists had submitted written reports on this... but the answer was always the same: no money."

These conclusions should not be startling to readers of Physics & Society, but what is noteworthy is that officialdom is speaking. The Global Organized Crime Steering Committee is populated by three former directors of the CIA, two FBI members, Secret Service and Defense Intelligence Agency personnel, Senator Sam Nunn, and others. This public involvement from the intelligence community was not always the case. In 1991 the executive branch responded slowly to the demise of the FSU, failing to make plans to control FSU "loose nukes" and plutonium. In fact it took science-to-science back-channel contacts to grease the skids to create much-needed legislation that was sponsored by Senators Nunn and Lugar.

The promotion of tagging and sealing FSU nuclear weapons in December 1991 would have greatly complicated the timely removal of tactical nuclear weapons from Ukraine and the other FSU republics to Russia, and would have slowed up the START process. But it was necessary to begin the process to strengthen FSU safeguards. As a follow up, the non-governmental community hatched the 1992 Biden Condition on START that requires "the President [to] seek an... appropriate arrangement, including the use of reciprocal inspections, data exchanges, and other cooperative measures, to monitor... nuclear stockpile weapons... and inventory of facilities... capable of producing or possessing significant quantities of fissile materials." In the intervening years it has been difficult for our government to make progress on reciprocal monitoring regimes.

NBM sticks mainly to what the intelligence community does best, gathering data and analyzing futures from what is, rather than from what might be with totally new policy initiatives. Even though the NBM findings and recommendations have mostly appeared in journal articles, it is very useful for the likes of Webster, Gates, Sessions, Soyster, Woolsey and Nunn to give us confidence to take action. The Nunn-Luger bill would, if funded by Congress, assist in safeguards such as the materials protection, control and accounting systems which will be applied to plutonium storage facilities at in Russia. But it will take perhaps ten years to nail down security at some 100 facilities. These plans can become reality if all goes well politically in Russia, if the U.S. moves toward some modest reciprocal safeguard measures, and if Congress funds the Nunn-Lugar programs.

The major NBM findings are as follows:

-- The probability of theft is growing.

-- The insider threat far exceeds the outsider threat.

-- The nuclear black market is inchoate, with few buyers identified.

-- Materials are arriving in Western Europe by numerous and shifting routes that render countermeasures expensive and leaky.

-- Should today's unsophisticated suppliers link up with professed nuclear weapons aspirants, organized efforts may evolve.

-- Russian organized crime is participating but appears to be low-level and localized. Since corruption pervades Russia from top to bottom, the Task Force cannot dismiss the likelihood that higher-level criminal elements operating on a more global scale might become involved.

-- The importance of human intelligence cannot be overstated. Task force members generally agree that technical sensors,.law enforcement officers, "profiles" of thieves, and joint analysis of relevant intelligence are inadequate.

-- Plans and capabilities for neutralizing nuclear materials or devices at the international level are far less robust than at the national level.

However, NBM is silent on a number of issues: the continuing Russian plutonium-breeder economy, the burning of plutonium as MOX in thermal reactors, the vitrification and geological burial of plutonium, the fissile cut-off treaty, the deeper cuts of START III, and so forth Lastly, NBM ends with unspecific recommendations on bilateral safeguards, on organization, on technology (including nuclear forensics) and on legislation. With luck and diligence, we can hope to constrain the 25,000 warheads, 100 tons of plutonium and 1000 tons of high-enriched uranium, but then we may need some prayer as well.

David Hafemeister
3711 Appleton, NW
Washington, DC 20016

Article Reviews: From World Watch

Physics and Society publishes brief reviews of journal and magazine articles, in addition to book reviews. If you come across articles that other FPS members could benefit from, please write your own brief (200 words maximum per article) review and send it to Art Hobson (addresses are on page 2).

Here, we briefly review several recent articles from World Watch , a bimonthly publication of the Worldwatch Institute. WorldWatch tracks key indicators of the Earth's well-being. By monitoring global changes in climate, population, food production capacity, energy, water resources, and other major trends, the magazine examines the connections between human economies and the health of the natural environment upon which they depend. Articles are written by the Worldwatch Institute staff. The magazine is translated into seven languages, and its articles are distributed weekly by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate to nearly 100 world newspapers. Their address is 1776 Massachusetts Ave N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036, 202-452-1999,

Public Money and Human Purpose: the future of taxes
David Roodman, September 1995, pp. 10-19
Most countries use taxes and subsidies that undermine the well-being of the environment. But there are some positive--and now proven--alternatives.

Freshwater Failures: the crises on five continents
Janet Abramovitz, September 1995, pp. 27-35
Societies have misunderstood that their freshwater assets are not simple commodities to be tapped at will, but complex living systems. As a result of that misunderstanding, many of these systems are in trouble. Discusses extinct and at-risk fresh-water species in North America, and problems in the U.S. Great Lakes and Africa's Lake Victoria. Also see the listing, on page 39, of such "Freshwater Facts" as these: "Percent of earth's surface covered by freshwater: 1. Percent of all fish species that live in freshwater: 41."

China's Food Problem: the massive imports begin
Lester Brown, September 1995, p. 38
Lester Brown initiated lots of discussion of this topic two years ago, with the article "Who Will Feed China?" (World Watch September 1994, pp. 10-22). The present one-page article is an update documenting China's widening gap between grain consumption and production, declining world grain stocks, and rising world grain prices.

Facing Food Scarcity
Lester Brown, November 1995, pp. 10-20
Global grain production: No growth since 1990, while population has grown by 440 million. The world's economy may be shifting from overall abundance to scarcity. World grain stocks have been drawn down for three consecutive years, and are now down to 49 days--little more than pipeline supplies. Brown sounds an alarm.

India's Low-Tech Energy Success
Payal Sampat, November 1995, pp. 21-23
How 2 million power plants are turning cow dung into electric power and cooking fuel, and ending up with fertilizer that is even better than manure. In a country that is mostly unconnected to an electrical grid, biogas is a major source of heat for cooking, and of electricity. Biogas is produced by fermentation of organic materials in a sealed container at 25-35oC. Its combustible component, methane, is piped into homes to be used as a cooking fuel, and it also used to fire diesel engines to generate electricity. The slurry that results from fermentation is such an excellent fertilizer that is often more highly valued than the gas.

Small Islands: awash in a sea of troubles
Anjali Acharya, November 1995, pp. 24-33 Overfishing, the growing burden of people and waste, toxic commerce, the "rising tide of climate change," and politics all threaten the islands of the Caribbean, the Pacific ocean, and elsewhere.

Power Shock: the next energy revolution
Christopher Flavin, January 1996, pp. 10-21
Argues that new technologies, industry restructuring, tougher environmental policies, and incipient climate change are all driving a shift from a fossil-fueled to a solar-powered economy. Looks at some of the leading candidates: photovoltaics, fuel cells, wind turbines, and hydrogen.

A Billion Cars: the road ahead
Odil Tunali, January 1996, pp. 24-35
In 1950 there were 50 million cars; today the human population has doubled, but the car population has multiplied ten-fold to 500 million. Within 25 years there may be 1 billion cars on the road. Most of the increase will come from the developing world, especially China. Tunali analyzes the consequences, the problems, and their solutions.

Income Gap Widens
Hal Kane, March 1996, pp. 8-9
Statistics on individual incomes worldwide. The gap between rich and poor is widening both within most countries, and also between the countries of the world.

Dying for Oil
Aaron Sachs, May 1996, pp. 11-21
History of the tensions in Nigeria between the Shell Oil Company and the Ogoni people led by Ken Saro-Wiwa, beginning with Shell's discovery of oil in 1958 and ending with Saro-Wiwa's execution by the nation's military rulers in 1995. Description of oil's environmental legacy in Nigeria.

Nicholas Lenssen and Christopher Flavin, May 1996, pp. 22-31
The nuclear power industry's declining worldwide fortunes during the past 20 years, due to high costs, technical problems necessitating costly repairs, fears of accidents, and concern about wastes.

"Sootprints" Track Down Polluters
Chris Bright, July 1996, p. 8
Electron microscopy is able to show how the carbon atoms are arranged in a sample of soot, an arrangement that is unique to a particular combustion process. Thus air pollution can be traced to a specific source.

The River Ganges' Long Decline
Payal Sampat, July 1996, pp. 24-32
Water pollution, overpopulation, waterborne diseases, and sewage treatment along the Ganges. With industrial discharges into the Ganges increasing at 8 percent per year, the prospects are grim.

Violence Against Women
Toni Nelson, July 1996, pp. 33-38
It may be the biggest human rights issue in the world, but is one of the least discussed. Yet increasingly, women are finding ways to fight the mutilation, rape, beating, and murder that have been their lot. Case studies and statistics from around the world.

The world wide web address for Consequences magazine, given in the October issue, had one mistaken letter. The correct address is