Abstract: Now that the Cold War is over, both the United States and the former Soviet Republics are dismantling their nuclear arsenals. Because of a less than reliable system of nuclear security in Russia, the chances of terrorists group obtaining uranium or plutonium from Russia have increased. However, in order to assemble the nuclear weapon, the group would need both knowledge and all the necessary materials. Thus, a nuclear threat by a terrorist is possible but not very likely.
During the 1980s, the world often watched and wondered what would and could occur between the two super power nations, the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. During the Cold War, both countries produced mass amounts of nuclear weapons. During this period, the U.S. amassed around 18,000 nuclear warheads. The Soviet Union was able to build its supply of nuclear weapons into the tens of thousands during the peak of the Cold War.
However, the world is now living in the 1990s, and the Cold War is over. Because of this, both countries began to pursue a policy of rapid nuclear disarmament. This reduction in arms is due to the START Treaties of 1991 and 1993 which were both signed by the former super powers. These treaties insured that both the United States and the former Soviet republics would be dismantling thousands of nuclear weapons every year. The U.S. has cut its number of deployed warheads to around 8,500, a reduction of nearly 10,000 nuclear warheads. Meanwhile, the former Soviet Republics will be dismantling between two and three thousand nuclear warheads a year for many years into the next century.
However, there is a great irony within this whole situation. While the disarmament policies and actions are making the world a safer place to live, the possibility of nuclear terrorism has increased greatly because of the reduction of nuclear weapons by the U.S. and the former Soviet republics. This is because the nuclear weapons are dismantled into the basic components, the most potentially dangerous piece being the uranium or plutonium center that fuels the nuclear explosion. These materials are now more readily available to terrorist groups than ever before because of lax security in Russia and the other former Soviet republics.
To understand the problem these nuclear fuels present, certain clarifications need to made. There are many different grades of plutonium and uranium. Most grades, (known as reactor grades) are usable in nuclear reactors. However, in order for plutonium or uranium to be used in a nuclear weapon, they need to be in a very high grade (often referred to as bomb grade). In its high grade form, uranium is known as uranium 235 or highly-enriched uranium (HEU). Plutonium is known as plutonium 239 when it is bomb grade. Both elements rarely occur in the bomb grade form. In fact, only 0.7% of uranium that is formed naturally is bomb grade. The other...