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Interview with Robert Gard and Corey Hinderstein

Published: 1:37PM Sunday April 11, 2010 Source: Q+A

  • Washington DC-based nuclear security experts Lt Gen. Robert Gard, chair of the Centre for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and Corey Hinderstein, Vice-President of International Programs for the Nuclear Threat Initiative (Source: Q+A)
    Washington DC-based nuclear security experts Lt Gen. Robert Gard, chair of the Centre for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and Corey Hinderstein, Vice-President of International Programs for the Nuclear Threat Initiative - Source: Q+A
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COREY HINDERSTEIN & LT GEN ROBERT GARD
Interviewed by PAUL HOLMES


PAUL For a generation New Zealand's anti nuclear policy has been a source of tension with our traditional allies, now under President Obama it has become something of a foreign policy asset, and tonight John Key arrives in Washington DC for a meeting, the Nuclear Security Summit, that addresses the danger of what are known as loose nukes, or unguarded or fairly insecure nuclear material, fissile material, at risk of falling into the wrong hands.
So it is a fascinating meeting this week in Washington DC. So what are the implications of all of that? On Friday I spoke to Corey Hinderstein, she is Vice President of the international programmes of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, this is a think tank founded by the former Senator Sam Nunn and it's chaired by the media magnate Ted Turner. I spoke also with Corey to Lt General Robert Gard, formerly a commanding general in the US Army and assistant to two Defence Secretaries, and he's now the Chair [of the Centre] for Arms Control and Non Proliferation. I began by asked them about the significance of this summit.

COREY HINDERSTEIN -
Nuclear Threat Initiative
I think the real importance of this meeting is that at no other time in history have we gathered this many world leaders to focus on the issues of nuclear material security, and more broadly to build a consensus that the terrorist nuclear threat is real, and that we have to work together to make our world more secure, and that the best place to do that, our greatest opportunity is to secure nuclear materials at the source, wherever it is in the world.

LT GEN ROBERT GARD
- Centre for Arms Control & Non Proliferation
Yes, and it's because we have not given this the priority it deserves in the past. We didn't even begin a global threat reduction initiative until 2004, and according to former Secretary of Energy, William Richardson, we targeted less than half of the research reactors that contain two thirds of the materials. So we need to get after this.

PAUL
Yes so how much fissile material is out there around the world, in all kinds of places, where would we find it, how much is there?

COREY
Well there's really around 1600 to 2000 metric tonnes of highly enriched uranium in the world. The reason for such a large range is we actually don't know how much was made in Russia, and there's some question as to whether the Russians really know how much they made in their history. On the plutonium side there's about 500 metric tonnes of material and I think we both agree that all that material combined is enough to build about 120,000 nuclear weapons.

LT.GEN. GARD
At a minimum, that is according to the standards of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

PAUL
So that's about 60,000 plutonium bombs, 60,000 uranium bombs I guess, that's a lot of nuclear bombs. Where is the enriched uranium, where is the plutonium?

LT.GEN. GARD
Well there's a good deal of it in Russia, but it's not limited to Russia. A couple of years ago four armed men broke into a facility in South Africa with enough highly enriched uranium to make 25 bombs, so it's not simply in the US and Russia, although we have most of it.

COREY
That's right. The US and Russia have produced the most nuclear material over time, but there is highly enriched uranium and separated plutonium, the key ingredients for a nuclear weapon in around 40 countries around the globe, and these countries are developed and developing, east west, north south, there's really nuclear material across the globe.

PAUL
General Gard, I understand some of your people from our outfit have been to the former Soviet Union, and have been alarmed by the lack of security they found with fissile material, yes?

LT.GEN. GARD
Yes that was particularly the case early on and that's what caused Senators Lugar and Nunn to initiate the legislation called the Nunn-Lugar bill to try to nail down the weapons and the fissile materials in the former Soviet Union. Because when the Soviet Union broke up it was somewhat chaotic, and these facilities simply were not secured, some with rusted pad blocks, and broken down fences, and so we went on a programme to try to secure those weapons and those materials, and we've made considerable progress in that, but we still haven't finished it.

COREY
I was just going to add to what the General said. I think it's very interesting that when you're talking about the security of nuclear materials, sometimes it's not the places where you'd expect it to be the most vulnerable where it is the most vulnerable. Certainly the former Soviet states have come very far. We also have situations where a country that actually has a more real feeling of threat every day might actually do better at nuclear material security than a western developed state that really doesn't feel that threat every day. And I think that's one of the really important messages of these leaders coming together for the summit, is to say we're all in the same boat. It's about us each taking responsibility for the material in our countries, it's also about us recognising that we have a responsibility to the rest of the globe to help everybody do it better, and for us all to live up to a better standard, and I think one of the messages that I'm hoping will come out of the summit is that the threat is real, but we have realistic and appropriate approaches that we all should take.

PAUL
You mentioned General Gard there might be a worry about the uranium or the plutonium in the United States. Might there be places there where it's not secure?

LT.GEN. GARD
Yes indeed, we have research reactors in universities that don't have any guards on the doors, they've been exempted from the normal security requirements, so we've gotta look in the mirror too and I certainly agree with what my colleague said here. We need to find out where all this is and we need to move out as rapidly as we can to either convert the fuel in some of the research reactors from high enriched uranium to low enriched uranium, or to put really tight meaningful security on those facilities.

PAUL
Now let's move on to the terror threat, because President Obama's now saying the very great worry he's got, and he repeated this this weekend, the great worry now is terrorists making nukes. But before we talk about why the terrorists haven't got them already, I would have thought they're quite difficult to make, you need big facilities don't you to make a nuclear bomb, or can you make one in a flat in Luton north of London?

LT.GEN. GARD
Well it's my understanding, and this comes from scientists in our country, that it's not difficult to make what's called a gun type of nuclear device where you take a sub-critical mass of highly enriched uranium in either end of the tube and you shoot one end to the other. That's what we did when we bombed Hiroshima, we had never tested that device because it was so obvious that it was going to work, and we have it on very competent authority that it does not take a highly professional group to produce such a device. If they get their hands on the materials we'll have an extremely difficult time keeping it out of the United States or some other western country, because it'll be difficult to detect. That's why we're trying to move to secure these materials at the source.

COREY
The question of infrastructure is really important because I think it's a misconception that you need a nuclear programme of the kind that the US and Russia, China, France, the UK, even India, Pakistan and others have pursued. For example, if you look at South Africa, they did almost all of their nuclear weapon design and experimentation work in a building that would look no different than a warehouse in a satellite image. They don't require large amounts of energy, and frankly you don't need to test the weapon, as General Gard said. South Africa produced seven nuclear explosive devices without ever testing any, and without ever losing confidence in the idea that they would work, and they did that in small facilities scattered in the countryside where they weren't really gonna be bothered. The most important thing that a terrorist would need is space and privacy, and all they would have to do is experiment with the high explosive side and they wouldn't ever have to test a nuclear weapon.

PAUL
The question therefore being why haven't the terrorists got them already?

LT.GEN. GARD I think it's just dumb luck on our part that they haven't, because they've certainly had the opportunity to secure the fissile materials. Perhaps Al Qaeda, which has been not the sole organisation by any means, but one that has been the most explicit about its threat against the United States with a nuclear weapon, was at least disrupted and dislodged and perhaps they just haven't been able to quite succeed in getting enough highly enriched uranium to make a device. To make a gun type device you need more than the 25 kilograms that are necessary to make an implosion device, more like 90 to 100 kilograms, so perhaps they just don't have enough yet, or they have focused on other means of terror.

PAUL
A quick word about this new movement really, the former hawks, people like George Shultz, Kissinger, former secretaries of state and defence. They now say that nuclear weapons as a deterrent don't work any more, but the time really has come to get rid of the nuclear weapons from the world. Why do they say that, why do they believe nuclear weapons are no longer a deterrent?

LT.GEN. GARD
Well because the terrorists, the suicide bombers are not deterrable. I think large states are, but the concern is that a rogue state could conceivably provide nuclear materials, or even weapons to a terrorist group, and when you're dealing with the terrorists you can't deter them. I mean, who do you retaliate against if it's a terrorist attack?

COREY
My boss Sam Nunn joined with his colleagues as you said former Secretary Shultz, Perry and Kissinger on this effort that they called the Nuclear Security Project, that really defines the need to have both the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons, but also the practical steps to pursue that. And without the vision the steps are not seen as urgent or fair, and without the steps the vision is not realistic or possible, and this linkage I think has really led them down new paths with regard to nuclear threat reduction. I think General Gard said it exactly right, the system that worked during the Cold War is not a system that we can even apply to the world we live in today, we of course still have the threat of accident or miscalculation among the major nuclear powers, but frankly that's not the most likely way that we would have a catastrophic nuclear event, and so what their position is, is nuclear weapons were designed and built and kept to make us in the United States and in the other nuclear weapon states in their perceptions safer. If we think that they no longer make us safer but their existence, their continued or indefinite existence makes us less safe then we have to take steps to reduce their numbers, reduce our reliance on nuclear weapons and ultimately end them as a threat to the world. This isn't something that will happen overnight, and nuclear security, physical security is one piece of those steps, an important piece, but it is something that we can start working towards. And on the side, the United States, Russia and others, the more we can walk down that road, the more we're gonna be able to bring others with us to address the really pertinent proliferation problems like Iran and North Korea. Those countries are not gonna turn around and just give up their programmes because we're talking about disarmament but rather our steps will help us bring a global consensus together to address those threats.

PAUL
General Gard, can I just ask you, do you think the idea of getting rid of nuclear weapons around the world is an idea whose time has come?

LT.GEN. GARD
It's an idea that we must endorse because we have the obligation to do so under Article 6 of the Non Proliferation Treaty. Your country has been a champion in pointing out the obligation of the nuclear weapon states to take seriously their commitment to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to nuclear disarmament. It's well past time that we understood that we've gotta keep our end of the bargain if we want the non-nuclear weapon states to abstain from obtaining the weapons

PAUL So briefly both of you, what have we got to see come out of this Nuclear Security Summit in Washington DC this week, what practical stuff have we got to see?

COREY I think we have to see states coming to the Summit ready to announce a direct threat reduction activity, like conversion of facilities, additional security and their participation in the instruments of the global architecture, and most importantly we have to see a statement of international consensus that the threat is real, the threat is urgent, and we have to address the threat together as an international community, if we want to have any chance at reducing our risk.

LT.GEN. GARD
And one thing that came out of the nuclear posture review that was just released in our country, is that non proliferation and preventing nuclear terrorism has moved to number one, the top of the agenda and therefore I think the President in holding this Summit is trying to place the emphasis on preventing proliferation and in particular a terrorist attack that is long overdue.

PAUL
Well thank you both indeed very much for coming to our studio location which is a very nice location, in fact it look like you've just taken time out from the golf at Augusta National with a little bit of wind blowing the hair around. Thank you very much and good luck for the week.

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