Monday, August 26, 2002

Jane Fonda's ex-husband buys highly enriched uranium, sends it to Russians

Glenn Reynolds points us to this interesting article in the Guardian about Ted Turner's latest adventure. It seems that Turner has paid a good chunk of money to buy some enriched uranium from a scientific institute in Serbia to be shipped to the Russians. There it is "to be rendered unusable". (Thank God - the thought of Ted Turner with nuclear weapons is unnerving).

Assuming that Ted isn't really seeking revenge against AOL, the driving idea behind this is that it was "enough uranium to make more than two nuclear bombs", and he wants to deny it to terrorists.

"Stopping terrorists from acquiring nuclear weapons boils down to one top priority: stopping them from getting nuclear bomb-making materials," Mr Turner said yesterday as it emerged that his Nuclear Threat Initiative had provided £3.3m to fund the operation.

Clamping down on access to the materials is an important factor, and the claims seem to check out. According to this, "About 50 kilograms of the material is in fresh or unirradiated fuel, and another ten kilograms is in only slightly irradiated fuel. Enrichment of the 60 kilograms of highly enriched uranium remains at 80 percent."

I don't know if you can build a bomb out of 80% enriched uranium or not - this says it takes 90%. So presumably the stuff would require further, very expensive refinement to be useful to terrorists.

Apparently Turner has the 50 kg quantity mentioned earlier, which is consistent with its packaging - "The rods were reportedly stored in their original crates and guarded by only lightly armed civilians." Why not take the rest? - probably because it has been irradiated and may be too hot to transport.

The fuel was transported by plane. I guess Greenpox didn't have time to protest.

Why give it to the Russians? Presumably because it was their uranium in the first place, and because they're probably more flexible in what they're willing to do with it.

Now we get to the really interesting part, where the stuff is to be rendered unusable. Nobody is saying how. Assuming that the Russians aren't going to use it for bombs, the sensible thing to do is to burn it up in reactors as originally intended. Then the consumed uranium is gone forever.

I wonder if Turner violated any federal laws in doing this?

UPDATE: This was in the WaPo on Friday and I missed it (again, via Glenn Reynolds). TT was working in collaboration with the US govt, so one hopes that what he was doing was totally lawful.

GR's nameless source says that 80% was the enrichment of the Hiroshima bomb, so presumably the material could be used as is to make bombs. However, then the quantities required for a bomb are different - according to this, the Hiroshima bomb used 60 kg of U-235, which at 80% concentration would be 75 kg of uranium. Either figure is more than was removed from Vinca.

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