Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Nuclear Tech Theft?

Currently the worlds attention seems affixed to Iran's nuclear weapons program and the civil unrest in Pakistan that could endanger their nuclear arsenal. Clearly it is in the worlds interest to make sure that nuclear weapons technology does not become widely available due to the obvious dangers associated with this. It would seem, however, that the specific focus on these two crises has significantly reduced the amount of attention the world pays to other nuclear threats.
Apparently last week a "military style" attack was launched on a nuclear facility in Pelindaba, South Africa in which two armed groups working in conjunction managed to breach the facility and tried to remove a computer. The security personnel apparently intervened at the last second and a fire fight ensued that left several guards dead, the computer abandoned, and the assailants fleeing. Although the South African government has been silent as to the possible motives of the attackers they have acknowledged that it was very unlikely that it was the hardware which the men were after. Accusations have been leveled against the security guards on duty of complicity or negligence.
Considering the sophistication of the attack and the fact that South Africa was in the process of developing nuclear weapons in the late 80's it would be possible that the assailants wanted to secure some of the left over research data that might have still been stored in the plants database. Although the computer was abandoned it is still not clear whether the attackers were able to access any of the files or whether they had simply taken the hard drive for simplicities sake. With the South African government silent everything is possible.
It seems worrying that this event garnered almost no international attention at all. If stopping the spread of nuclear weapons was the goal of current policies toward Iran and Pakistan then maybe other countries with nuclear technology should be closely monitored as well. Especially very poor countries with nascent nuclear weapons technology lying about with little sophisticated protection. While the world is focused on containing Iran and stabilizing Pakistan it would not be unreasonable for terrorist to shift their nuclear weapons procurement attempts to other regions.

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