UNITED NATIONS—The world's roughly 34,000 nuclear weapons are "pretty much" accounted for, according to a report released Monday by the U.N.
"The U.N. is confident that virtually all of the world's nuclear arsenal has been inventoried and catalogued," said Paavo Östersund, chair of the United Nations Nuclear Weapons Investigative Committee. "For those of you who fear that there are weapons of mass destruction in the hands of rogue states or terrorists, let me assure you that this is, to the best of our knowledge, not the case."
The report details the whereabouts and operational status of "the vast majority" of warheads on Earth, including North Korea's 300 NoDong-2 nuclear-capable medium-range missiles, Turkmenistan's 73 Scud B/C short-range missiles and the two to five 75-pound plutonium-core satchel nukes believed to be in the possession of radical Muslim fundamentalist Osama bin-Laden.
The report also outlines the status of most of China's several dozen or so ICBMs and India's three or four nuclear-capable missiles, and details on the dismantling of the roughly 21,000 nuclear warheads currently controlled by Kazakhstan, the Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Belarus and "a bunch of other former Soviet-bloc nations."
In addition to completing a "pretty thorough" global nuclear-arms census, the U.N. also determined the location of a great deal of the world's weapons-grade fissionable materials.
"We worked closely with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the former Soviet Union's Strategic Rocket Forces with the firm objective of really getting a handle on this whole nuclear materials deal," said Robert L. Chang, a U.N. nuclear-devices inspector. "And we accounted for piles and piles of it. You'd really be surprised how little's actually missing."
According to Chang, the total volume of missing weapons, radioactive materials and sensitive strategic items is "actually barely even anything." The amount of material still unaccounted for, Chang said, is so small, it would fit in 10 or 12 dozen suitcases.
"You'd be surprised how low the possibility is of a portable nuclear device finding its way from a Third World splinter faction into the hands of a terrorist flying from Athens to New York City," Chang said. "The chances are a thousand to one."
"Besides," Chang continued, "nuclear devices are astronomically expensive on the black market. If a terrorist group were to purchase one, odds are low that they would use it in all but the most extreme cases."
The Pentagon is optimistic about the report.
"When talking about something like worldwide nuclear stability, it's critical to maintain a sense of perspective," Defense Department spokesman Kenneth Bacon said. "After all, what's more important? The tens of thousands of multi-megaton-capacity weapons that are accounted for, or the comparatively tiny couple of hundred that aren't?"