GAO Report on the 1965 NUMEC Affair Declassified

Updated below

In 1965, over 200 pounds of weapons-grade highly enriched uranium went missing from the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation (NUMEC) plant in Apollo, Pennsylvania.  Circumstantial evidence and popular lore suggested that the material had been clandestinely diverted to Israel for use in its nuclear weapons program, either with or without the acquiescence of the U.S. Government.

A secret 1978 review of the episode (pdf) that was performed for Congress by the General Accounting Office (as it was then known) has recently been declassified and released.  But instead of resolving the mystery of the missing uranium, it only highlights it.

The Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission cooperated fully with the GAO, but the CIA and the FBI did not.  “GAO was continually denied necessary reports and documentation on the alleged incident by the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation…. The lack of access to CIA and FBI documents made it impossible for GAO to corroborate or check all information it obtained,” the GAO report said.

“Based on its review of available documents held by DOE and discussions with those involved in and knowledgeable about the NUMEC incident, GAO cannot say whether or not there was a diversion of material from the NUMEC facility…. Agents from the FBI involved in the current investigation told GAO that while there exists circumstantial information which could lead an individual to conclude that a diversion occurred, there is no substantive proof of a diversion.”

“All investigations of the alleged incident ended with no definitive answer and GAO found no evidence that the 200 pounds of nuclear material has been located,” the GAO said.

The GAO report was obtained by the Institute for Research: Middle East Policy, a group critical of pro-Israel advocacy in the U.S.  See “Nuclear Diversion in the U.S.?  13 Years of Contradiction and Confusion,” U.S. General Accounting Office report EMD-79-8, December 18, 1978.

Update: The most recent account of the case is “Revisiting the NUMEC Affair” (sub. req’d) by former NRC officials Victor Gilinsky and Roger J. Mattson, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March/April 2010.

“The circumstantial evidence supports the conclusion that the HEU ended up in Israel,” said former NRC Commissioner Gilinsky. “Our conclusion, which was based on a lot more information and analysis than was available to the GAO in 1978, thus goes well beyond that of the just released report. Moreover when we talk about the HEU we include not only the unexplained losses found in the famous 1965 inventory, but also unexplained losses for the subsequent few years, which are even larger.”

“The bottom line of the article,” said Dr. Mattson, “is that it is time to end FBI and CIA secrecy on the now 40+ year old Apollo/NUMEC affair.”

Nuclear Nonproliferation, Safeguards, and Enrichment

“South Africa repeatedly has stated its commitment to nuclear nonproliferation since it ended its nuclear weapons program and signed the Nonproliferation Treaty in July 1991,” observes a brief new report from the DNI Open Source Center, which also notes that “South Africa has a history of backing Iran’s ‘peaceful’ nuclear development.”  See “South Africa’s Nuclear Nonproliferation Posture Remains Consistent” (pdf), Open Source Center Report, 9 April 2010.

“The implementation of international safeguards at the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant (RRP) in Japan has been the largest challenge the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has faced to date,” according to a recent report on the development of nuclear safeguards.  See “Lessons Learned in International Safeguards — Implementation of Safeguards at the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant” (pdf), Oak Ridge National Laboratory, December 2009.

An overview of uranium enrichment programs around the world was prepared last year for the Department of Energy, based exclusively on open source information.  See “Profile of World Uranium Enrichment Programs – 2009” (pdf), Oak Ridge National Laboratory, April 2009.

Speaking at the CSIS Global Security Forum

By Hans M. Kristensen

Clark Murdock and John Warden with the Center for Strategic and International Studies invited me to speak today at their Global Security Forum. My co-panelists were General Larry Welch (USAF, ret.) and Morton Halperin.

The question posed to us was whether the United States should, in a proliferated world, continue to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in its national security strategy. There were different views on how much and for what reasons the role could be reduced, but at least no one could envision a need to increase the role.

CSIS will probably make the video available online soon, but in the meantime here are my prepared remarks: Continue reading

FAS Needs Your Help: Become a Member During this Critical Time in Nuclear Security


Thank you for your interest in the work of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS).

Last week, the Obama administration released the total number of nuclear warheads in the U.S. stockpile — 5,113 — a number that was classified for decades. In February 2009, FAS expert Hans Kristensen published an estimate that now turns out to have been only 87 warheads off. Over the past week, Kristensen’s estimate and FAS efforts on nuclear security have gained widespread recognition in the mainstream media.

Continue reading

FAS video, Paths to Zero, released.

As Alicia already mentioned in the previous post, in conjunction with the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, FAS yesterday held the “big screen” premiere of its new video, Paths to Zero at the United Nations in New York.  The video will be the core of a new interactive feature on the website.  As topics are mentioned in the video, viewers will be able to click on key words to jump to additional information.  Until we get that all set up, I think the video works well as a stand-alone product so we are posting it as such.  It is 43 minutes long, so set aside some time to watch.  If you find it useful, feel free to link to it.  (It is also on Vimeo.)

What Alicia did not mention is that she did a lot of the production work and organizing, along with Rich Abott.  I wanted to thank both of them for a great job.


FAS side events at the RevCon

by Alicia Godsberg

Yesterday FAS premiered our documentary Paths To Zero at the NPT RevCon.  The screening was a great success and there was a very engaging conversation afterward between the audience and Ivan Oelrich, who was there to promote the film.  As a result of some suggestions, we are hoping to translate the narration to different languages so the film can be used as an educational tool around the world.  You can see Paths To Zero by following this link – we will also be putting up the individual chapters soon.

This morning I spoke at a side event at the NPT RevCon entitled “Law Versus Doctrine: Assessing US and Russian Nuclear Postures.”  I was asked to give FAS’s perspective on the New START, NPR, and new Russian military doctrine.  Several people asked me for my remarks, so I’m posting them below the jump.   Continue reading

A New Push for the Office of Technology Assessment

Ever since the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) was eliminated in 1995 by the resurgent Republican majority, some members of Congress, science policy advocates, and others having been searching for a way to replace the depth of expertise and and the often trenchant policy analysis that it once provided to Congress and the public.  Now the possibility of reconstituting OTA itself is gaining new momentum.

For the second year in a row, Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) has requested funding that $35 million be allocated to restore OTA.  For FY 2011, Rep. Holt requested $2.5 million for an initial restart, with the expectation that the budget would later grow to around $35 million. Last week, dozens of scientific, environmental, labor and other organizations endorsed funding for OTA in a letter to Congress.  “Revitalizing the OTA would enable members of Congress to more fully understand the advantages and implications of the science and technologies in which they are asked to invest,” said the May 7 letter (pdf), which was coordinated by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The possibility of new funding for OTA and related discussion of technology assessments for Congress including were noted by the Congressional Research Service in “Legislative Branch: FY2011 Appropriations” (pdf), April 28, 2010 (at pp. 18-19).

A comprehensive archive of OTA publications from 1972-1995 is available on the Federation of American Scientists web site.

A 2004 report from the Federation of American Scientists entitled “Flying Blind: The Rise, Fall, and Possible Resurrection of Science Policy Advice in the United States” by Henry Kelly, Ivan Oelrich, myself and Benn H. Tannenbaum is here (pdf).

In the absence of an OTA, Congress has assigned technology assessment problems of varying scope and complexity to the National Academies of Science, the Government Accountability Office, and the Congressional Research Service.

A 2008 CRS report — that may conceivably have some relevance to the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig off the Gulf Coast last month — examined the value and hazards of natural gas in the form of solid gas hydrates.  “Offshore drilling operations that disturb gas hydrate-bearing sediments could fracture or disrupt the bottom sediments and compromise the wellbore, pipelines, rig supports, and other equipment involved in oil and gas production from the seafloor,” the report said.  See “Gas Hydrates: Resource and Hazard” (pdf), November 26, 2008.

Burma, Greece, Arizona and More from CRS

Each year, Congress inserts language in the Legislative Branch Appropriations Act prohibiting the Congressional Research Service from “pay[ing] any salary or expense in connection with any publication” that has not been specifically approved by the House Administration Committee or the Senate Rules and Administration Committee.  The intent of the language is to prevent CRS from making its products directly available to the public.

The following CRS publications obtained by Secrecy News fall under this strange prohibition, since they have not been approved for public dissemination by the House or Senate Committees (all pdf).

“Burma’s 2010 Elections: Implications of the New Constitution and Election Laws,” April 29, 2010.

“Greece’s Debt Crisis: Overview, Policy Responses, and Implications,” April 27, 2010.

“State Efforts to Deter Unauthorized Aliens: Legal Analysis of Arizona’s S.B. 1070,” May 3, 2010.

“Legislative Approaches to Defining ‘Waters of the United States’,” April 30, 2010.

“State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs: FY2011 Budget and Appropriations,” May 5, 2010.

“Latin America and the Caribbean: Illicit Drug Trafficking and U.S. Counterdrug Programs,” April 30, 2010.

Small Arms in Iraq Vulnerable to Theft and Diversion

By Matthew Buongiorno
Scoville Fellow

Shortly after the United States invaded Iraq and disbanded its army, the Bush Administration concluded that a key to stabilizing the country was the creation of a self-sufficient and effective Iraqi Security Force (ISF). To this end, the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund (IRRF) – later succeeded by the Iraq Security Forces Fund (ISFF) – was established as a train-and-equip program charged with quickly delivering weaponry to the ISF. While the ad hoc program was successful in quickly supplying large quantities of weapons to the ISF, it lacked the stringent accountability procedures applied to other U.S. arms transfer programs and, consequently, may have failed to prevent the diversion of U.S. weapons.

Recognizing the dangers associated with poorly secured weaponry, the United States has taken several important steps to improve stockpile security and accountability procedures for U.S.-origin and U.S.-funded weapons transferred to Iraq. These steps are assessed in the latest edition of the Public Interest Report.

The article draws on documents retrieved by the Federation of American Scientists via the Freedom of Information Act. These documents, as well as additional documents not cited in the article but of relevance to the debate over security and accountability procedures in Iraq, are posted below:

▪ Compliance with Section 1228 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 (FY08 NDAA)

▪ Presidential Certification of Compliance with Section 1228 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 (FY08 NDAA)

▪ Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) Compliance with Section 1228 of FY08 NDAA

▪ Foreign Military Sales (FMS) Program Compliance with Section 1228 of the FY08 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)

▪ Directive-Type Memorandum (DTM) 08-041 – Registration and Monitoring of Defense Articles and Services Provided to Iraq

▪ Background 1228 Policy Changes

DOD Inspector General Report SPO-2008-001 – Special Plans and Operations: Assessment of the Accountability of Arms and Ammunition Provided to the Security Forces of Iraq (Part I)

▪ DOD Inspector General Report SPO-2008-001 – Special Plans and Operations: Assessment of the Accountability of Arms and Ammunition Provided to the Security Forces of Iraq (Part II)

▪ DOD Inspector General Report SPO-2008-001 – Special Plans and Operations: Assessment of the Accountability of Arms and Ammunition Provided to the Security Forces of Iraq (Part III)

Russian Nuclear Weapons Account Falls Short

A Russian brochure misrepresents the size of the Russian arsenal.
Click image to download copy of full procure

By Hans M. Kristensen

A brochure handed out by the Russian government at the ongoing nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in New York appears to misrepresent the size of the Russian nuclear arsenal. Continue reading