Nuclear Terrorism Remains a Credible Threat in the CIS
№3 2007 July/September

Shortly after the breakup of the Soviet
Union, it seemed – especially since the Cold War was over – that
the threat of a nuclear conflict had disappeared. Nevertheless,
nuclear confrontation remains a real threat.

Nuclear terrorism poses an even greater
threat. In the 1990s, nuclear scientists supposed that amid
globalization and scientific-technological progress, the majority
of countries would not be able to acquire nuclear weapons before
2020. But the process is moving along much more rapidly. The
“nuclear club” is expanding, but not all “newcomers” can ensure the
security of their nuclear arsenals. This greatly increases the
likelihood that weapons of mass destruction (WMD), primarily
nuclear or radioactive weapons, as well as arms grade material,
could fall into terrorist hands.

Andrei Kokoshin, Head of the State
Duma’s Committee for CIS Affairs and Contacts with Russians Abroad,
is convinced that terrorist attacks with the use of nuclear weapons
or fissile materials are especially dangerous and should remain an
overriding priority for the world community.


The uncontrolled circulation of various
radioactive materials gives potential nuclear terrorists greater
possibilities. According to experts at the International Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA), a ’dirty bomb’ can be created with any
radioactive isotopes (Vienna, November 2006). Although an atomic
chain reaction from such a bomb is impossible, the detonation of
such a device would cause radioactive contamination of the terrain.
The contamination level from such a device would not be high enough
to affect human health, but the implementation of WMD and the
threat of radiation could provoke widespread fear and panic.
Intimidation is the terrorists’ main objective: their aim is to
force states to yield to their demands or act in their

According to the Chicago-based
organization Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, as reported by the
BBC, it is primarily organizations like al Qaeda that are seeking
to obtain and use nuclear weapons. Jamal al-Fadl, a key prosecution
witness in the U.S. vs. bin Laden case (New York, February 2001),
said that in 1993 al Qaeda had conducted negotiations with a
Sudanese citizen on the purchase of uranium in South Africa. In
September 2006, Abu Hamza al Muhajir, al Qaeda’s purported leader
in Iraq, urged scientists to join the organization and conduct
experiments with radioactive devices to adapt them for use against
coalition forces. In October 2006, the Al Arabiya TV channel aired
video footage of an address by Abu Yahim, another bin Laden
associate, which contained calls to assemble “the nuclear bomb of

Lewis Smith, writing in The Times,
argues with good reason that even reported seizures of radioactive
material can fuel fears of a potential dirty bomb, especially when
several kilograms of the so-called ’yellow cake’ were discovered in
December 2003 in a scrap metal shipment at a Rotterdam port. There
was another case of strontium 90 and cesium 137 being seized by
Georgian police from a taxi driver in Tbilisi in May

IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei
said recently that in the past decade his agency has recorded 650
international attempts to smuggle nuclear material, and urged the
global community to multiply its efforts to protect the existing
stockpiles of nuclear material against terrorists. Furthermore, The
Times adds that the number of smuggling attempts in Europe (with
the aim of making the dirty bomb) has doubled since 2002, reaching
300, according to the IAEA. But the real level of smuggling
operations, the agency warns, could be much higher. In 2005 alone,
Western security services disrupted no less than 16 attempts to
smuggle uranium and plutonium.

The post-Soviet space is another front
line in this struggle. According to the RF Federal Customs Service,
in 1995 it discovered four attempts to illegally transfer
radioactive materials across the border; in 2004, this number
increased to approximately 200. According to the RF Prosecutor
General’s Office, over 40 attempted thefts of radioactive materials
have been foiled in the past decade. In Belarus, between 1996 and
2003, customs authorities thwarted 26 attempts to smuggle nuclear
materials into their country; two of the attempts originated from

While Western experts are especially
concerned by the possibility of radioactive leaks from “legal”
nuclear power installations, atomic scientists in the CIS see the
main danger coming from abandoned industrial facilities and
installations, medical and scientific organizations, mothballed ore
deposits, and tailing dumps.

In March 2002, Tajik police in the town
of Chkalovsk seized two kilograms of low-enriched uranium from four
men who had been trading in radioactive materials since 1998. In
2005, there was a marked increase in attempts by unidentified
individuals to access the Bobodzhan-Gafur tailing dump.
Furthermore, reckless actions by individuals who are searching for
nonferrous metals have resulted in a substantial increase in
background radiation, exceeding the maximum permissible level by 10
times or more (see: www.caresd.net 21.06.05).

Contrary to popular belief that
Afghanistan has no significant potential for mineral resources
(except for a ruby deposit), rich uranium ore was discovered in its
Khanneshin region. According to some reports, the Taliban showed
interest in uranium, while low enriched material was exported from
Kandahar. Addressing a Russia-NATO Council session, then Defense
Minister Sergei Ivanov said transport containers with inscriptions
in Russian, purportedly with enriched uranium, were available on
Afghanistan’s black market. Such finds can be seen as preparations
for provocative terrorist acts, while responsibility for them may
be blamed on Russia, which allegedly does not ensure effective
control of its nuclear installations.


Following the breakup of the Soviet
Union, a number of former Soviet republics were confronted with the
problem of ensuring the security of nuclear installations on their
territory. Economic difficulties, political instability and armed
conflicts undermined the old system that had guaranteed strict
control of nuclear arsenals and radioactive materials.

Some CIS countries partially lost
control of radioactive materials, as their nuclear backyards began
to attract criminal elements. Potential dirty bomb producers/buyers
are closely watching nuclear submarine dismantling plants and other
industrial (especially abandoned) enterprises that in some way or
other used radioactive materials, as well as medical, scientific
and research organizations, and to a lesser degree, abandoned
uranium mines.

According to a report entitled
Inventorying and Disposal of Ionizing Radiation Sources in the CIS,
which was presented in June 2005 to the Seventh Session of the CIS
Commission on the Use of Atomic Energy for Peaceful Purposes in
Kiev, “sources of ionizing radiation cannot be reliably protected,
on the same level as nuclear power plants or nuclear waste storage
facilities; in the past decade, following reforms that caused the
closure of a number of institutions, there are increasing numbers
of ’orphaned’ ionizing radiation sources; the relatively small
dimensions and weight of ionizing radiation sources make them
convenient targets of theft or unauthorized transfer, which causes
particular concern today in light of the growing threat of
terrorism” (http://sng.ainf.ru/po/images/stories/zasedaniya_komissii/7zasedanie/6.pdf).

Without calling into question the
competence and good faith of the governments of states on whose
territory hazardous installations are located, it is critical to
take into account the possibility of theft and uncontrolled
circulation of radioactive materials. The radiological situation
can also be affected by natural cataclysms, as well as man-made
impacts, including acts of sabotage or subversion. The CIS should
be fully aware of these threats, especially since Central Asia is a
major black market for the sale of uranium. The region is
characterized by a number of unfavorable conditions for the storage
of nuclear waste, including political, geomagnetic and climatic
instability. At the same time, it is in geographical proximity to
Afghanistan and the Middle East.

For example, about 13 percent of
Kazakhstan’s territory is contaminated with radionuclides,
according to the country’s Institute of Nuclear Physics, an
affiliate of the National Nuclear Center. According to scientists
quoted by Interfax-Kazakhstan, there are more than 100 million
metric tons of waste at uranium storage facilities in Kyrgyzstan,
Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

From every indication, Astana is
greatly interested in eliminating the “radiological risks.” It is
considering such large-scale international projects as Navruz and
Caspian Rivers, which are designed to create and put in place a
system of radiological monitoring along rivers that border Central
Asia, Russia and the Caucasus.

In 2006, during an official visit by
U.S. Vice President Richard Cheney to Kazakhstan, a raft of joint
documents was signed on this issue, thus marking an important step
forward. These documents included an amendment to the agreement
between Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources and
the U.S. Department of Defense on the elimination of WMD
infrastructure, as well as an implementation agreement between the
Kazakh Finance Ministry and the U.S. Department of Energy on
cooperation in the suppression of the illegal circulation of
nuclear and radioactive materials.

In Kyrgyzstan, “the threat of radiation
security for the public is posed by closed radiation sources, a
total of 1,200, which are stored at such installations, but due to
funding shortages, it is impossible to bury them” (from the report
entitled, Inventorying and Disposal of Ionizing Radiation Sources
in the CIS).

In Kyrgyzstan’s Batken Province, there
are more than 20 major radioactive tailing dumps (left behind since
the time when the Soviet Union was actively mining uranium there).
The Kyrgyz authorities have stated repeatedly that many of these
facilities are in need of modernization, but the republic does not
have enough financial resources for such a project. Experts do not
rule out the possibility that should these dumps come under an
adverse impact (for example, as a result of a massive earthquake),
the densely populated Fergana Valley could be faced with an
environmental disaster.

In the estimate of Ecosan experts, at
least 7,000 tons of radioactive semi-liquid waste is stored in 23
burial sites on the banks of the Mailisu River in Kyrgyzstan. In
addition to this, there are also 13 waste dumps of discarded ore
with a total mass of 2.7 million cubic meters and active uranium
content of around 200 grams per ton. Background radiation on the
surface of these waste dumps is 100-200 microroentgens per hour
(mR/hr) (the maximum permissible level is 17 mR/hr). Independent
environmentalists say radiation levels in certain places can be as
high as 2,000-3,000 mR/hr.

Tajikistan’s uranium mines are
concentrated in the Fergana Valley – Tyuyamyun, Taboshar, Adrasman,
Mailisu, and other fields. This is where the Leninabad combine, one
of the first uranium production facilities in the Soviet Union, was
built (since the 1990s, it has been called the VostokRedMet uranium
mining and processing enterprise).

In July 2005, an international
conference, entitled Uranium Legacy Issues in the Republic of
Tajikistan, was held in the city of Kairakkum in the north of the
republic. It was organized within the framework of the Bishkek
Declaration (2003) and attempted to solve the radioactive waste
disposal problem. Conference participants – experts from
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Russia and Germany – visited
waste burial sites in the Sogd Province where, according to various
estimates, up to 54.8 million metric tons of waste from
hydro-metallurgical enterprises was buried. Although it is
low-level radioactive waste, it can remain a source of danger for
hundreds of years, while Tajikistan does not have the necessary
technology to handle such sites.

According to environmental experts,
unless urgent measures are taken, a natural or man-made disaster
could result in the spread of radionuclides from the Sogd burial
sites and abandoned uranium mines through the Syr Darya River,
which cuts across the region.

Hotam Murtazoyev, director of the
Ecology and Scientific-Technical Progress research and development
company, says the most serious source of danger is an industrial
waste dump in the town of Dehmai, located nine kilometers from the
river. This site, which contains 36 million tons of waste, has not
been guarded for more than 10 years. A vast amount of water
accumulates in its pit during the winter period, which then dries
up in summer. Thus, radioactive dust rises from the dump and
settles in some parts of the city of Chkalovsk, not far from
Khujand, the center of the province. According to experts, in some
parts of Khujand (primarily residential areas) the background
radiation reading is 80 mR/hr and higher. But in certain parts of
the Sogd area, background radiation can be as high as 1,000 mR/hr
(IWPR; nuclear.kz 04.04.05). The maximum permissible concentration
in Tajikistan is 57 mR/hr.

CIS member countries are certainly not
indifferent to nuclear security problems. For example, in Ukraine
(with its problem of “Chernobyl looters”) amendments were
introduced to the Code of Administrative Infractions and the
Criminal Law Code, which are designed to toughen penalties for
violations of radiation safety rules. According to the Seventh
Session of the CIS Commission on the Use of Atomic Energy for
Peaceful Purposes, the best radioactive waste storage and disposal
practices are to be found in Russia, Kazakhstan and Armenia. The
Commission’s Eighth Session (Yerevan, September 2006) addressed the
containment of radioactive sources in the CIS, and elimination of
the effects caused by atomic energy enterprises from the Soviet

Comprehensive monitoring and analysis
of radiological security threats in the CIS on the regional level
is still a sensitive issue. In this connection, the collective
efforts of the CIS should be aimed at establishing control over all
sources that may attract potential creators of a dirty


The so-called ’nuclear problem,’ as
part of the energy security problem, has yet another aspect.
Fearing another energy crisis, governments are striving to
diversify their energy sources. Suffice it to mention that in early
2007, Washington decided to lift an oil drill ban on Alaska, and
build about 30 nuclear power plants. Japan and China announced a
significant increase in nuclear power generation. China is planning
to build 30 nuclear reactors in addition to its already existing
nine by 2020. Without this, it will be impossible for China to
achieve its ultimate goal: double GDP by 2020.

According to the IAEA, construction of
NPPs can ensure a 30 to 80 percent increase in power generating
capacities in Asia alone. Mukhtar Dzhakishev, president of
Kazakhstan’s Kazatomprom company, citing international energy
experts, points out that by 2030, global energy consumption will
double. The conclusion from such a prediction is that only nuclear
power can save mankind from an energy shortage – that is, until
thermonuclear power plants are built (www.c-asia.org/analit

According to the U.S. based company,
International Nuclear Inc., from 1985 to 2003, the world’s
commercial uranium reserves reduced 50 percent. In 2005, global
uranium production was around 40,000 metric tons with annual
consumption at 69,000 tons. Thus far, the uranium shortage is
covered from existing stocks, reserves and secondary sources. In an
IAEA estimate, by 2020, global uranium production will grow to
65,000-70,000 tons, while consumption will rise to 82,000-85,000
tons. Experts say there is a total of over 5 million tons of
untapped uranium reserves in the world. The world’s leader in
proven reserves is Australia (989,000 tons), followed by Kazakhstan
(622,000), Russia (615,000), Canada (441,000), South Africa
(398,000) and Ukraine (250,000). Canada has the richest ore in the
world (10 percent content), as compared to Australia’s 0.5 percent
and Russia’s 0.1 percent.

Today, Russia is experiencing a uranium
shortage of 5,000 tons a year, and this figure is steadily growing.
Moscow plans to increase its NPP capacity more than 50 percent by
2010, and over 350 percent by 2050. Russia will first need to form
a strategic reserve of 22,000 tons, which, considering its domestic
needs, will require at least five to six years. Experts believe
that Russia will soon go from being a natural uranium exporter to
an importer. The amount of uranium coming from secondary sources
(stocks) is expected to decline sharply, which will lead to a
crisis. At this point, not even skyrocketing prices will be able to
prevent a substantial shortage of uranium on the market. None of
the key producers will have enough time to boost output

Kazakhstan is actively developing its
energy resources. According to Russia’s Tekhsnabexport company
(which holds 35 percent of the world’s nuclear fuel market), a
joint Russian-Kazakh-Kyrgyz venture, Zarechnoye, which is situated
in Kazakhstan, has about 19,000 tons of uranium reserves.
Kazatomprom, a national exporter/importer of uranium and other dual
purpose materials, has increased uranium production to 3,363 tons,
and hopes to become the world’s leading uranium producer by 2010.
Meanwhile, a uranium ore field with a capacity of 1,000 tons of
uranium concentrate a year has opened in Vostochny Mynkuduk,
southern Kazakhstan. According to some reports, the deposit has an
estimated reserve of 22,000 tons of uranium. Similar mines are to
be opened before the end of this year at Tsentralny Mynkuduk (2,000
tons), Yuzhny Inkai (2,000), Irkol (750), and Kharasan (2,000). In
2008, operations are due to start at Zapadny Mynkuduk and
Budenovskoye fields (1,000 tons each).

South Korea signed a nuclear energy
cooperation agreement with Kazakhstan, in which it is to receive
around 1,000 tons of uranium a year. Kazakhstan (Kazatomprom) and
Japan (Sumitomo Corporation and Canzay Electric Corporation) signed
a memorandum of intent foreseeing the creation of a joint venture
to develop the Mynkuduk uranium field in southern

Tajikistan has 14 percent of the
world’s uranium reserves. Uzbekistan’s proven reserves vary from an
estimated 80,000 to 120,000 tons, according to different sources.
In the estimate of the IAEA, its possible reserves are at 230,000
tons, which will ensure sustained production for the next 50-60
years. According to the IAEA, Uzbekistan ranks seventh in the world
in uranium reserves and fifth in uranium production. The republic
does not have its own nuclear industry, exporting all of the low
enriched uranium that it produces. Now, Uzbekistan has agreed to
allow a South Korean investor, Korea Resources Corporation, to
develop its uranium deposit at Dzhantuar in Central Kyzylkum. The
South Korean market can digest up to 300 tons of uranium a year.
Russia also has shown interest. Tekhsnabexport and Rusburmash are
planning to create a joint venture with their Uzbek partners in
2007 to develop the Aktau uranium field, which has an estimated
capacity of 300 tons of uranium per annum.

Within the next few years, the majority
of energy dependent countries will take an even stronger interest
in Central Asia. Competition will grow and possibly be accompanied
by military-political pressure, including the use of force. Nor can
one rule out the possibility of terrorist acts with the use of
nuclear weapons or the threat of their use as a means of acquiring
alternative energy sources and placing them under

To avert such a scenario, it is
critical, in pursuing energy expansion programs, first to comply
with technical and antiterrorism security standards at nuclear
power installations; second, the states concerned should assume
responsibility for the dismantling and removal of abandoned mines
and mothballed installations; third, high priority needs to be
given to tailing dumps and soil reclamation.

Antiterrorism measures are an
indispensable element of all energy programs and projects.
ElBaradei’s comment that nuclear security is “a race against time”
should not be interpreted as a figure of speech. He warned that the
world faces a real threat from nuclear terrorism, adding that an
extensive black market in radioactive materials is increasing the
danger. “The world is engaged in a race against time to control the
spread of nuclear material,” he said, warning that action was
needed to prevent a nuclear or radioactive emergency.


In 2005, the UN adopted an
International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear
Terrorism. The Convention calls for states to develop appropriate
legal frameworks to fight against nuclear terrorism-related
offenses, investigate alleged offenses, and arrest, prosecute and
extradite offenders as appropriate. It also calls for international
cooperation with nuclear terrorism investigations and prosecutions
through information-sharing, extradition and the transfer of
detainees to assist with foreign investigations and prosecutions.
The Convention provides for a mechanism for returning stolen
radioactive material, device or nuclear facility, used by
terrorists. It also provides that “upon seizing or otherwise taking
control of radioactive material, devices or nuclear facilities,
following the commission of an offence,” the State Party in
possession of such items shall render them harmless and ensure that
“any nuclear material is held in accordance with applicable IAEA
safeguards.” Thus far, 107 states (with only five ratifying it)
have signed on to the Convention. The document may only enter into
force once it has been ratified by at least 22 states.

Implementation of this fundamental
document has both a national and subregional aspect. Within the
CIS, effective preventive action cannot be limited to the territory
of just one state; especially considering that one of the CIS’s
essential functions is to ensure collective security, including
protection against terrorist threats.

To eliminate the threat of nuclear
terrorism, the CIS member countries need, as a matter of urgency,
to implement the following measures:

  • implement procedures to expedite the
    ratification of the International Convention for the Suppression of
    Acts of Nuclear Terrorism;
  • draft a CIS agreement on the
    suppression of acts of nuclear terrorism, including an array of
    preventive measures, in line with the basic provisions of the Code
    of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources (IAEA,
  • inventory all CIS installations that
    handle radioactive materials, accompanied by a realistic assessment
    of possible threats, such as thefts, illegal circulation of such
    materials and their use in building dirty bombs, taking into
    account the IAEA Categorization of Radioactive Sources
  • ensure effective monitoring, on a CIS
    scale, of aforementioned hazardous installations, as well as any
    criminal acts relating to trafficking in such materials, especially
    those moved across state and customs borders;
  • put in place a unified radiation
    control system on the sub-regional level, primarily a “radiological
    barrier” on the borders between the CIS Member States;
  • continue joint antiterror exercises at
    radiation-hazardous installations.