Thursday, January 25, 2007

Weapons-grade Uranium Plot in Republic of Georgia 

It's all over Fox News today that Georgia, with the cooperation of the CIA, FBI and Department of Energy, conducted a sting operation that uncovered a plot to sell a small amount (about 100 g. or 1/4 pound) of highly-enriched uranium (90% U-235) to a Georgian undercover agent who the seller believed to be a radical Muslim. The perpetrator was carrying the material in a plastic bag, in his pocket. He told the agent that the 100 grams was only a sample, and that he had another 2 to 3 kg. (4.4 to 6.6 lbs) available.

A fact that doesn't come out loud and clear in the TV broadcasts is that the perpetrator was arrested nearly a year ago, on 1 Feb. 2006, according to the WaPo story of the incident.

This is big news, and it's bad.

I have no idea what minimum mass of U-235 is necessary to make a fission bomb, but I suspect, given that the Hiroshima bomb contained about 40 lbs. (18 kg.) of enriched uranium and the technology has advanced drastically in the 60 years since it was used, that the actual minimum mass is probably somewhere in the range of 15-20 lbs. (7 to 10 kg.), assuming the latest technology is used. So this guy was basically peddling about a third to a half as much uranium as would be needed to make a fission bomb.

I'm going to apply the cockroach theory to this story: for every one you see, there are a dozen more hiding in the walls. This would suggest that there have been some sales of weapons-grade uranium that we don't know about. If this is true, there may be unaccounted-for nukes that are deployable right now by people who don't like us very much.

The facts of this story should keep homeland security planners and the spooks that advise them up at night. For example, all the guesses that you hear about Iran's nuke capability are based on the assumption that the Iranians will "grow their own" nuclear material for their bombs. This story could mean that they have one or more bombs already, and their production industry is only to enable them to build up their nuclear arsenal. Even worse, this incident makes the Memorial Day scenario uncomfortably plausible.

As if we didn't have enough to worry about.

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