The modest ribbon-cutting marked the conclusion of one of the largest and most complex nuclear security operations since the Cold War. The secret mission was to secure plutonium — enough to build a dozen or more nuclear weapons — that Soviet authorities had buried at the testing site years before and forgotten, leaving it vulnerable to terrorists and rogue states.High-Grade Plutonium Locked in Kazakhstan Mountain at Minimal Risk
The effort spanned 17 years, cost $150 million and involved a complex mix of intelligence, science, engineering, politics and sleuthing. This account is based on documents and interviews with Kazakh, Russian and U.S. participants, and reveals the scope of the operation for the first time. The effort was almost entirely conceived and implemented by scientists and government officials operating without formal agreements among the nations involved. Many of these scientists were veterans of Cold War nuclear-testing programs, but they overcame their mistrust and joined forces to clean up and secure the Semipalatinsk testing site, a dangerous legacy of the nuclear arms race.
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