In 1998, 60 Minutes II Producer George Crile visited Krasnoyarsk-26 and discovered that what goes on in this Russian city may be the biggest threat to U.S. national security. Nestled in the frozen wilds of Siberia, Krasnoyarsk-26 produces plutonium, the key ingredient in most nuclear weapons. Over the past 40 years, its factories have produced 40 tons of the deadly element, enough for more than 10,000 nuclear bombs.
|The Adventures Of George Crile: Find out firsthand what it was like to be an American in a secret city.|
But to get these advantages, they had to agree not to leave or have any visitors from the outside world. They were constantly under surveillance by the KGB. Even today, eight years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the city is still isolated.
The most isolated part of the city is the mountain where the plutonium was produced. Last year, Crile became the first Westerner to take a camera crew into that mountain.
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As the Russian economy continues to tumble precipitously, observers and U.S. government officials worry more and more that disgruntled, hungry Russian nuclear workers will try to sell nuclear material to terrorists or rogue governments. According to U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, the government's point man in the fight against nuclear proliferation, some of these groups, including Iran, have already tried to buy plutonium to make bombs.
Besides Krasnoyarsk-26, there are nine other nuclear secrt cities in Russia. All 10 are going through the same hardships. Scientists, soldiers, security guards and nuclear workers are all finding themselves in desperate straits. Some experts say that the plutonium and uranium under their control could fall into the wrong hands.
December 1999 update: Since 60 Minutes II first broadcast the story in February, the workers inside the Secret City have received a small pay raise. But the price of food there has doubled or tripled. To deal with the crisis, the United States has agreed to pay the entire cost of converting the nuclear reactor, so that it can heat the city without also making weapons-grade plutonium. The work, however, is not likely to be completed for another two or three years. Until then, the workers inside the mountain will continue producing enough plutonium to make a new bomb every three days.
Broadcast story produced by George Crile; Web story produced by David Kohn;