Backdoor Nuclear Threat To U.S.

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Nuclear missiles like the SS18 were the pride of the Soviet Union — and America's Cold War nightmare.

And although Russia is now preparing to slash its stockpile of weapons like these by two thirds, the nuclear threat to America could actually be growing, reports CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer.

Russia's decrepit and badly-guarded nuclear installations may be a dangerous source of raw material for terrorists.

"I have no doubt that a dedicated and top-class terrorist organization could target and acquire nuclear materials and it's essentially a race against time," said John Wolfstahl, an editor with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "Either we will secure the materials before they are stolen or they will steal the materials before they are secured."

A home video shot by a former major in the Russian army — who now works for Greenpeace — makes the same point. Maxim Shingarkin decided in February to break into a high-security nuclear fuel storage facility.

Strolling through holes in the fence — Shingarkin says no one challenged him as he climbed onto the roof — where only a row of windows separated him from the spent fuel canisters.

It's criminal negligence, Shingarkin says.

"Armed terrorists could steal 800 pounds of spent plutonium from the plant — which is enough to produce a nuclear bomb."

Since September 11, attention has newly focused on the fact that Russia can't make its nuclear installations secure by itself. It is completely dependent on American money.

American money — a total of $400 million a year — has already been flowing steadily since 1991. It's funded a vast array of projects from nuclear waste processing project to centers like one just outside Moscow where the military tests the new security devices.

But Russia has a long way to go.

The army says it is doing its best — but without even more international aid — a real terrorist attack would find it outmaneuvered and outgunned.
  • David Hancock

    David Hancock is a home page editor for CBSNews.com.

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