Expert outlines worries of nuclear proliferation

Speaking from his vantage point as a former Air Force secretary and atomic weapons scientist, Thomas C. Reed said there is plenty to be concerned about in a world where factions bent on destroying American life want to join the nuclear club.

For example, although the United States and Russia are “hard at work looking for it,” he said, there’s enough plutonium missing from the former Soviet Union’s inventory to make roughly 25 bombs like “Fat Man,” the one a U.S. bomber dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, in World War II, killing 39,000 people outright.

“In the case of plutonium, how much plutonium did they produce? Well, they produced between 140 and 162 tons. If they can’t find a tenth of one percent, that means there is 310 to 360 pounds of plutonium lying around somewhere,” Reed said Monday.

Reed, a former weapons designer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, teamed up with Danny B. Stillman, a colleague from New Mexico’s Los Alamos National Laboratory, to write “The Nuclear Express: a Political History of the Bomb and its Proliferation,” which was published this month by Zenith Press.

Reed, who served as Air Force secretary during the Ford and Carter administrations, will discuss “The Nuclear Express” at a Distinguished Lecture Series presentation 6:30 tonight at the Atomic Testing Museum, 755 E. Flamingo Road.

His lecture follows one earlier this month by local author Stephen M. Younger, who suggests in his book, “The Bomb: A New History,” that keeping tabs on nuclear materials and secrets is a challenging task.

Like the electrons that orbit the nucleus of an atom, there are many questions swirling around the role China has played in spreading nuclear weapons knowledge to countries such as North Korea and Pakistan.

Reed and Stillman think the nuclear seed was planted in China by a convicted World War II Los Alamos spy for the Soviets, Klaus Fuchs, a German refugee who fled to England in 1933. Fuchs met China’s chief A-bomb scientists upon his release from a British prison in 1959.

But the story doesn’t stop there. An American-born spy from the Los Alamos lab helped the Soviets develop the hydrogen bomb in the early 1950s, Reed asserted.

“The facts are nobody in the Soviet system claims credit,” he said.

“Danny was head of counter-intelligence at Los Alamos,” Reed said of his co-author. “He is quite satisfied that he has the smoking gun … that there was an agent.

Contact reporter Keith Rogers at or 702-383-0308.

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