U.S. Officials Lose Sleep over South Africa's Loose Nukes


Enough nuclear explosive to fuel half a dozen bombs, each powerful enough to obliterate central Washington or most of Lower Manhattan, is locked in a former silver vault at a nuclear research center near Pretoria, the South African administrative capital. Technicians extracted the highly enriched uranium from the apartheid regime’s nuclear weapons in 1990, then melted the fuel down and cast it into ingots.

On November 7, 2007, just after midnight, four armed men sliced through the chain-link fence surrounding the storage site. The raiders slipped under an array of high-voltage wires, shut off the electricity and alarms, held a gun to the head of one of the employees, and shot another. They didn't get the nukes, and the government of South Africa dismissed the incident as a routine burglary by inept thieves.  U.S. experts reached a different conclusion, fearing the nuclear explosives could be stolen and used by militants to commit the worst terror attack in history.

Two chilling reports on South Africa’s vulnerable nuclear arsenals, produced by The Center for Public Integrity, a Carnegie Corporation grantee, ran in The Washington Post on March 14th. Get the full story behind U.S. unease and the armed intruders on the paper’s website.