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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Schwarzenegger Should Fly to Kazakhstan. An Ownerless Nuclear Bomb Has Been Found There

Combat-Ready N-Bomb Said Rusting Away in Semipalatinsk

Moscow MOSKOVSKIY KOMSOMOLETS in Russian 24 Feb 95 p 1
Report by Aleksandr Budberg

In one of Schwarzenegger's latest blockbusters nasty Arab terrorists try to blow up several U.S. cities with four nuclear warheads bought after the USSR's collapse in Kazakhstan. When I saw the movie a month ago, I laughed at the free-wheeling fantasies of the Americans.... I shouldn't have.

In 1988-1989, the last series of nuclear devices in Soviet history was planted for underground testing at the test range near Semipalatinsk. These were "low-capacity" devices -- of not more than 20 kilotonnes (that is, similar to those that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki). They had time to detonate two devices, but one was never blown up. The Moscow authorities decided to introduce a moratorium on nuclear testing once again. No one had set aside money to extract the bomb from the silo -- apparently, there was none. (A silo in which a nuclear explosion occurs is to be "closed" as if with a special "lid," so a new silo has to be dug to extract the device, a pleasure that is even more expensive than preparations for testing.)

In short, one COMBAT-READY device and one dummy nuclear bomb, which for scientific purposes was exposed to such radiation that it itself became highly radioactive, were left in the soil of independent Kazakhstan. No one has checked to see what may have happened to them over the past seven years. Whether corrosion has gnawed at it is a murky question. MOSKOVSKIY KOMSOMOLETS's source, who is fairly close to the top military leadership, uttered a sophisticated phrase: "The period of guaranteed safety has already expired. Apparently, the device can no longer be dismantled at all. It seems that the Kazakhstan Government does not realize sufficiently well what kind of problem it is faced with." Of course, even if there is a threat that radioactive substances may penetrate the soil (plutonium, for instance, is very poisonous by itself, without any radiation), consequences will not be more disastrous than they would have been in an explosion that had been planned some time ago, but never executed. What is more terrifying is that at the edge of the Earth, in a foreign state, there is an A- bomb ready for use guarded by 25 interior troop soldiers. Its status or future have not been defined in any way. What's more, there is equipment at the test range that can be used to detonate the device.

Officials at the Atomic Power Ministry, whom your MOSKOVSKIY KOMSOMOLETS correspondent asked to comment on the situation, could utter only one coherent phrase: "This is another state now." But what a bureaucrat may see as a reason for feeling at ease should, on the contrary, be a reason for the deepest anxiety for any normal individual. Uranium is already being smuggled out of CIS countries; now, it seems, is the turn of nuclear devices. Suffice it to recall the fate of the super-secret S-300 Russian air-defense system, which was left in Belarus. President Lukashenka and other Minsk leaders swore that they would never sell it to anyone. Nonetheless, no sooner had the CIA made a certain effort than the system emerged in the United States, while Moscow did not think it necessary to voice a protest to its Belarusian brothers over the incident. Even in his outward appearance, Nazarbayev inspires more confidence than Lukashenka. But hardly anyone can give assurances that the hundreds of millions of petrodollars many are willing to pay to get hold of nuclear weapons will not make a difference. With this money anyone standing in the way can be removed. That same S-300, whose market value is estimated at at least $60 million, was sold at as little as $6 million. They say, however, that the Americans handed out another $40 million as bribes.

Clearly, no Russian agency would wish to take over this headache. There is certainly no money to fund any "active measures," while local authorities no longer allow the detonation of anything in Semipalatinsk. But however hard officials might try to reassure us, the whole world is effectively sitting on an ownerless nuclear bomb. One had better not try to imagine how this "great sitting" might end.

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