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Russians smuggling nuke materials through 9 border crossings

SPECIAL TO WORLD TRIBUNE.COM Thursday, March 9, 2000 WASHINGTON -- Officials said the United States has identified nine points along the Russian border where nuclear material is being smuggled south to Iran and from there to North Korea. They said they have raised the issue with Russian authorities and are appealing for congressional funding to secure the border points.

Rose Gottemoeller, acting U.S. State Department deputy administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation, told a congressional subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities that the first line of defense is to guard Russian and other nuclear facilities in the former Soviet Union slated for shutdown. This includes removing hundreds of tons of plutonium and other fissile material and finding jobs for thousands of scientists and technicians being laid off from the plants.

"Our second line of defense program is working to help Russia prevent unauthorized nuclear trade at nine key border crossing points and transportation centers -- many of them possible transit points to Iran or North Korea," Ms. Gottemoeller said on Monday. "By the end of calendar year 2000, we plan to place radiation detection equipment at all nine points. We are also developing a detection equipment training manual, which will guide the work of more than 30,000 front-line Russian customs officials."

Ms. Gottemoeller said that in addition to Iran and North Korea terrorist organization are also interested in obtaining weapons-grade plutonium and expertise. She pointed to recent thefts of nuclear material from the Russian navy.

Officials said a key danger is that unprotected Russian and former Soviet civilian nuclear installations have been targeted by nuclear smugglers. They said smugglers appear to be stealing fissile material produced in nuclear reactors.

But the officials said Russian cooperation in ending the transfer of nuclear material or technology to Iran has been spotty. They said the government insists on the right to complete the Iranian reactor at Bushehr.

As a result, officials said the Clinton administration has decided to limit bilateral research with Russia in developing modern nuclear reactor technologies and fuels

-- Martin Thompson (, March 10, 2000

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