INTERFAX 03-20-97 10:22 AET

Expert says terrorists may acquire self-made nuclear explosives

MOSCOW, Mar 20 (Interfax) - The possibility of terroristorganizations acquiring self-made nuclear explosive devices is quite realistic, Chairman of the Russian Interdepartmental Commission for Environmental Security Alexei Yablokov told a news conference in Moscow on Thursday.

Terrorists may manufacture nuclear explosive devices from materials which can be acquired rather easily, for instance with the use of spent nuclear fuel from nuclear power stations, said Yablokov, a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

It will be extremely difficult for law enforcement agencies and the special services to find and defuse such nuclear bombs because they are compact and can be put in an ordinary truck, he said.

The risk of nuclear terrorism or accidents in the nuclear industry is becoming more dangerous because of the Russian Atomic Energy Ministry's plans to use the excessive stocks of weapons-grade plutonium as fuel at nuclear power stations, Yablokov said.

Estimates say Russia will accumulate 60 tonnes of weapons-grade plutonium by the year 2003 as a result of the dismantling of nuclear warheads under international treaties on nuclear weapons reductions.

The Russian Atomic Energy Ministry plans to process weapons-grade plutonium into mixed uranium-plutonium MOX fuel, Yablokov said. ``Plutonium has not so far been studied completely, and we do not know all of its characteristics.

``However, this is a nuclear material whose half-life period amounts to 24,000 years,'' he said.

Therefore, in the event of an act of terrorism or an accident at a nuclear power station fuelled by plutonium the environment will be contaminated forever, Yablokov said.