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U.S., former Soviet Union continue nuclear disarmament dance

explosion March 10, 1997
Web posted at: 5:00 a.m. EST (1000 GMT)

From Correspondent Rusty Dornin

SAN FRANCISCO (CNN) -- You show us your nuclear bombs and we'll show you ours -- that's the basic idea behind joint nuclear disarmament, but it's far from working.

So far, teams from the United States and the former Soviet Union have confirmed the destruction of silos and missiles, but neither side will show the other the dismantled core of nuclear weapons.


"We know they are dismantling, but we don't know at what rates or what exactly is happening to the materials that are coming out of the weapons," said Amy Sands, former assistant director of the Arms Control Agency.

Negotiations are moving at a snail's pace because neither side wants the other to know the top secret information contained in the bomb cores.

In an attempt to solve the dilemma, scientists at Livermore Labs are trying to come up with ways to make both sides happy. The first step may be getting an agreement on a storage container for the bomb cores.

Options but no agreement

One option looks like a beer keg in which the core of a nuclear weapon will be welded shut. The problem is, scientists from both countries will have to determine whether there is a nuclear core actually inside without ever opening the container.


One device that could be used to detect what's inside would measure gamma rays emitted by weapons-grade plutonium. Still to be worked out, however, is how scientists can be sure the device is measuring plutonium from a bomb if they can't actually see it.

"We are considering the possibility of trying to make some determination of the shape of the object in the container so that we won't be fooled by a random chunk of plutonium being stuck in there," said Tom Gosnell of Livermore Laboratories.

So far, there has been no agreement. In the meantime, about 11,000 dismantled U.S. nuclear weapons are in storage. Thousands more are believed stored in Russia, but no one knows for sure how many remain.

It's cause for concern in both countries.

"(We're) trying to get the material coming out of these nuclear warheads into a safe and secure place so they aren't available for smugglers," Sands said.

Some experts claim the solution will come only after the United States finds the proper incentives to entice the former Soviet Union to unveil their nuclear disposal practices.

Until that time, the delicate dance of disarmament will continue.


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