Stephen Smith: From American Public Media, this is an American RadioWorks documentary: Business of the Bomb. I'm Stephen Smith.
Archival audio: Five, four, three, two, one. [explosion]
Smith: Since the dawn of the atomic age, the world has grappled with how to manage a kinetic force so powerful it could destroy the earth many times over. A generation grew up worrying that the United States and the Soviet Union would launch a nuclear war, laying waste to all life. That fear has eased since the end of the Cold War. Today a big worry is that terrorists might get hold of nuclear weapons. There have even been news stories about smugglers sneaking across borders with their pockets full of uranium.
But there's a different kind of nuclear threat than the occasional smuggler. If you want an atomic bomb, you don't have to buy black-market fuel. You can smuggle the machinery and the instructions to make your own fuel.
David Albright: Countries that want nuclear weapons can either try to go smuggle material out of Russia, or they can try to put together the infrastructure to make nuclear weapons. They've consistently chosen the latter method and the way they then got the ability to make nuclear weapons is through illicit nuclear trade.
Smith: Nuclear expert David Albright is talking about a shadowy world where businesspeople operate outside the law. These nuclear brokers trade in hardware, in centrifuges and pipes and valves to produce nuclear fuel and build nuclear bombs. They also sell the know-how, and they're in it for money.
Albright: Now it's a trade that's very different than walking into some back alley and buying something. It's a method where you probably would be sitting down at the country club and making a deal, or walking into a company's office and making a deal in some luxurious conference room.
Smith: The best-known figure in this trade is the Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadir Khan.
George W. Bush: A.Q. Khan is known throughout the world as the father of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program. What was not publicly known … is that he also led an extensive international network for the proliferation of nuclear technology and know-how.
Smith: Four years ago, Western countries exposed Khan's nuclear network. They also took steps to dismantle it. But many experts say the bomb business Khan created is alive and thriving. American RadioWorks teamed up with the Center for Investigative Reporting to discover how these nuclear merchants operate. Over the next hour, we'll examine the threat from white collar nuclear smugglers and what's being done to stop the business of the bomb.
Our reporters are Michael Montgomery from American RadioWorks and Mark Schapiro from the Center for Investigative Reporting. They begin their investigation with a deal hatched in Africa.
Michael Montgomery: This is Michael Montgomery. I'm with Mark Schapiro and we're investigating one tentacle of the A.Q. Khan network. It stretched thousands of miles all the way from Pakistan to South Africa.
Mark Schapiro: We're driving south of Johannesburg and we're heading to this industrial park called Vanderbiljpark. And we've heard it's been an important hub for the global nuclear black market.
Montgomery: We're trying to find a factory where members of the Khan network were fabricating parts for a nuclear centrifuge. A.Q. Khan hoped to sell the system to Libya for that country's bomb program.
Schapiro: We're looking for this engineering company. It's an engineering company called Tradefin, Tradefin Engineering. And that company is at the center of a court case happening right now in South Africa not far from here in Pretoria. Its owners are accused of producing parts for a secret uranium enrichment facility. And enriched uranium, you can use in a nuclear energy facility, but you can also use it in a nuclear bomb.
Montgomery: We don't know what to expect. The owners are under arrest, but the factory is still operating.
So here we are: Tradefin Engineering.
Schapiro: As we approach, a guard opens the steel security fence and waves us through. Maybe we look like customers.
Montgomery: We park the car, get out and go in.
Schapiro: It's incredible. It's a huge metal warehouse-like structure. And you can hear all along the sides here are lathes, metalworking equipment, enormous cranes that can lift things up and down.
Montgomery: Tradefin fabricates giant steel pipes and fittings for big factories. But investigators say the company was involved in something else: a $200 million scheme to build a complete uranium enrichment plant; a plant capable of producing enough fuel for a nuclear arsenal.
Schapiro: We're passing an enormous metal press. It must be about 15 feet high; enormous metal tanks that look kind of brown and rusted and very used, connected to pumps. Hanging over there are cables.
Montgomery: What's striking is how ordinary the place looks. It's just another grimy manufacturing plant in an industrial park alongside a tile maker, a tire manufacturer and a pipe fitter. It's hard to believe this place was one of the key spokes in the world's most threatening expansion of nuclear weapons technology. But that's exactly what investigators discovered.
Schapiro: Right now this firm, Tradefin engineering where we're standing right inside here, is being accused in a courtroom in Johannesburg of manufacturing very sophisticated centrifuge technology for export to Libya as part of the A.Q. Khan network.
We didn't see any signs of secret nuclear technology here.
Montgomery: But when police raided Tradefin in 2004, they discovered a two-story steel processing system for a nuclear enrichment plant; disassembled and carefully packed into 11 freight containers. The material was awaiting shipment to Libya. Police also found this curious videotape promoting the work of the man at the center of the plot: Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan.
Video narration: Under the dynamic guidance of Dr. Abdul Qadir Khan, a dedicated team of scientists excels in gaining the expertise of enriching uranium to the desired levels.
Schapiro: We obtained portions of the video. Investigators say the tape connects A.Q. Khan, Tradefin and the deal to help Libya build its own nuclear arsenal.
Montgomery: But the deal never happened. In late 2003 U.S. and British intelligence agencies intercepted a shipment of nuclear materials to Libya and exposed the Khan network. President Bush spoke about the threat posed by the network in a speech three months later.
Bush: These dealers are motivated by greed or fanaticism. They find eager customers in outlaw regimes which pay millions for the parts and plans they need to speed up their weapons programs. And with deadly technology and expertise on the market, there's the terrible possibility that terrorist groups could obtain the ultimate weapons they desire most.
Montgomery: President Bush vowed to take apart Khan's operation and bring its members to justice. But four years later, experts and prosecutors are still untangling the vast enterprise. Khan's network corralled dozens of businesses in as many as 30 countries. Some companies exported mundane items like aluminum tubes typically used in bicycles frames. They didn't realize how those tubes would be used. But other businessmen knew exactly what they were doing.
Schapiro: What's interesting is that people at the center of a bomb-building network were not terrorists or fanatics. They apparently were not even politically motivated. They were after one thing: money.
Albright: It's a white collar crime. It involves people, typically, who are very successful businessmen who just want more.
Montgomery: David Albright is a former U.N. weapons inspector. He's president of the Institute for Science and International Security.
Albright: And so you have a situation where what you and I would view as respectable businessmen are going about selling the wherewithal to make nuclear weapons.
Schapiro: The men behind the Tradefin deal for Libya were successful contractors and manufacturers. They had legitimate businesses. They owned homes in Johannesburg's most exclusive gated communities. But they found they could make more money from side deals with A.Q. Khan, at least $2.5 million for their fabrication work at Tradefin.
Montgomery: It's the very banality of a place like Tradefin that poses a major challenge to the world's nuclear police: the International Atomic Energy Agency. Olli Heinonen is the IAEA's chief weapons inspector.
Olli Heinonen: These kind of workshops, there are tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands in the world, who can do the same job what this Tradefin was doing. The only thing which these workshops need is the know-how to have the technology, the equipment, how to do it. But once they get the drawings, they can do it. And I think that's where our problem is.
Doug Frantz: Tradefin sits in a normal industrial park. It looks like any other small factory or warehouse and that really is the danger here.
Schapiro: Doug Frantz is a journalist and co-author of a book about A.Q. Khan called The Nuclear Jihadist. He says the Khan network represents the coming of a new nuclear age; an age in which technology and know-how that were once closely-held secrets are now available on the global marketplace.
Frantz: Any number of places around the world, any number of factories - in Malaysia, or Japan, or South Africa, or even perhaps Burma or Sudan - have the capability of acquiring the equipment and turning out these parts and pieces that you need for a nuclear factory. And it's all sort of hidden in plain sight, just as Tradefin is hidden in plain sight outside Johannesburg, and that makes this far more dangerous.
Montgomery: Nearly all nuclear proliferation begins with technology and know-how developed in the West. A.Q. Khan got his start in the Netherlands. In the 1970s, he was a young scientist working at a big nuclear enrichment facility called Urenco. A BBC documentary pieced together details of Khan's work at the high-security plant. A former Urenco colleague, Trevor Edwards, spoke about Khan.
Trevor Edwards: He was supposed to only obtain unclassified information and lowly classified, namely restricted information. Unfortunately he was a very charming man as I remember, he was often asked for his advice, and he became trusted beyond what his security clearance was.
Montgomery: The BBC showed footage from inside Urenco and the whirring centrifuges that spin non-stop for years to produce enriched uranium. At low levels, the fuel can be used to generate electricity. But enriched to 90 percent, it becomes bomb-grade. That's why centrifuge designs and technology are highly classified.
Schapiro: Khan eventually took these designs home for Pakistan's bomb program.
Montgomery: But he didn't stop there. In the 1990s, he started offering his services elsewhere. His operation has been dubbed a "nuclear Walmart." But it was really more like an exclusive boutique offering rare items at outrageous prices. Khan charged hundreds of millions of dollars to clients including Libya, which at the time, was under U.N. sanctions and accused of supporting terrorism.
Albright: Libya went out and bought, essentially, a turn-key nuclear facility, down to where they were going to put the toilets.
Schapiro: David Albright.
Albright: And so you had a situation where it's a supply of a very sensitive facility that, until that time, we thought only nations could do, and developed nations: Russia, France, United States.
Montgomery: The video recovered at Tradefin reveals how A.Q. Khan leveraged some countries' fears and ambitions to market its nuclear wares. The video focuses on how Khan helped Pakistan obtain nuclear technology to counter the nuclear program of its archrival India.
Video narration: On May 18, 1974, deep in the Rajastani desert near the Pakistani border at Pokram, India carried its first underground nuclear test.
Montgomery: The video portrays Pakistan as a country facing a grave threat when India began nuclear tests in the 1970s.
Video narration: The eyes of the nation were fixed on Dr. Abdul Qadir Khan and his laboratories as they proved to be the only deterrent to save the country from this reign of fear and uncertainty.
Schapiro: The video also shows how within 10 years, Khan completed what he called, "The miracle of enriching uranium." That's the key step to building a nuclear device. In 1998, India exploded its first bomb. Pakistan followed a week later.
Video narration: Now today, the country stands amongst the committee of nations with pride and valor on firm footings as the seventh nuclear power in the world ready to combat any aggression from any hostile country.
Montgomery: Khan's marketing efforts were successful. In addition to Libya, he is widely believed to have provided nuclear technology to Iran and North Korea. Experts say all three countries share similar motivations for going nuclear. First there's the prestige factor, as suggested in the video. Then there's security and political leverage. The North Korean bomb brought the U.S. to the bargaining table. It seems countries are likely to have secret bomb programs when they feel threatened and isolated. The story of what happened in South Africa is a good illustration of why a country would seek to build a bomb.
Schapiro: After the second world war, South Africa's white leaders were strengthening control over the black majority through a system of racial segregation, or apartheid.
Male voice: I consider apartheid, that's the separation policy, to be South Africa's last chance to remain a white man's country.
Montgomery: At the same time, the country was modernizing. In the 1960s, white leaders saw huge potential in exploiting the country's rich uranium deposits, at first as fuel for their own nuclear energy program. Then South African scientists came across an idea that seems ludicrous today: harnessing so-called peaceful nuclear explosions. The concept was being promoted by the U.S. Energy Department as part of a program known as Operation Plowshare. The Department produced this promotional film.
Film: Needs like these, expanding economic and social needs of an ever- expanding population, can be met only by moving huge quantities of earth, efficiently and economically. For these immense projects, in their relatively isolated and underdeveloped, nuclear excavation offers the potential for providing the practical, economical means.
Andre Buys: The intention of the Plowshares program was to use nuclear explosives for civilian activities.
Schapiro: Andre Buys was a young scientist assigned to help develop nuclear devices for South Africa's mining industry.
Buys: We are a mining country. We have large, very low-population areas, and so a feasibility study was done into the application of peaceful nuclear explosives in South Africa.
Montgomery: By the 1970s, South Africa was isolated. The country was fighting proxy wars against Soviet-backed governments in southern Africa. And there was a rising resistance movement among the black majority, which South Africa met with brutality.
Newscast: Good evening. A general state of emergency has been declared throughout the country.
Schapiro: The U.N. imposed sanctions. South Africa's embattled leaders ordered Andre Buys and other scientists to divert their efforts into a bomb project. But as Buys recalls, they didn't give much guidance on the kind of weapon to build.
Buys: Simple questions like: How many weapons do you need? Do we have to manufacture one or five or 10 or 100? What sort of energy yields should the weapons have? Do they want half a kiloton, 1 kiloton, 10 kiloton, 100 kiloton? Nobody could give us any answers.
Schapiro: Buys says the leadership also didn't say much about what the weapons would be used for.
Montgomery: So Buys' team developed their own nuclear strategy to design and build six or seven nuclear weapons whose very existence would jolt Western leaders into closer support of South Africa as a Cold War ally. In other words, use the bomb as a diplomatic cudgel.
Buys: It was really just aimed at forcing or twisting the arm of leaders in the Western world; people like President Reagan, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, people like that which we thought would listen to such an appeal from South Africa. The appeal would simply have been: We're up against an overwhelming military onslaught from the Soviet Union. Our own means are inadequate to defend our country. However we do have nuclear weapons. So why don't you become involved and stop the war because there is a risk now that this thing can escalate into a nuclear conflict.
Montgomery: We're about 10 miles west of Pretoria and we're walking along a narrow road up a hill with overgrown grass on each side. The place looks fairly dilapidated. There's a guard tower, a guard station.
Schapiro: It was one of the most secret locations in the world. Here there was a team of scientists who were busy working on developing South Africa's nuclear bomb.
Montgomery: Andre Buys agreed to take us to the site where South Africa put together its secret nuclear arsenal. We were the first journalists to visit this location with him.
Buys: This is the facility that was constructed in 1980-81, known as the Kentron Circle Plant. This is the main nuclear weapons manufacturing facility that was constructed at that time for the South African nuclear weapons program.
Montgomery: Tell me where we're walking towards and where we are.
Buys: We've just entered the building and we've come through the entrance way now. We're heading towards the safes where the nuclear weapons and also the nuclear materials were kept.
Schapiro: Long darkened corridors connect to a maze of small rooms. The place is empty now, but 25 years ago, Buys was here working with a team of 20 scientists. They were fashioning bombs out of highly-enriched uranium produced nearby, using designs smuggled from the West.
Buys: No foreigners ever visited this facility. Neither did any of the personnel that worked here travel overseas at the time.
Schapiro: Buys has a different career now as a university professor. He also advises foreign experts on how to dismantle illicit weapons programs. But as he revisited his former bomb lab, you could hear just a note of pride in his voice.
Buys: It was just technically a big challenge for us and I think everybody that worked here were very motivated and inspired. … I don't think there was so much of a political connotation at the time to the activities. It was just for scientists and engineers, … a wonderful technical challenge to be able to be involved in such a program.
Montgomery: Was there sort of a moment when you said, "We've done it. We've finished the first device."? Was there a moment that you remember? What was the mood like when that happened?
Buys: When we had the first weapon completed, the government was notified and we had the minister of defense here and we had some of the other cabinet ministers and other senior officials in the government and we threw a party.
Schapiro: Not everyone in South Africa's scientific community was excited about the bomb.
Montgomery: John Krige was a young physicist working at the country's main nuclear site, not far from Andre Buys' team. When authorities asked Krige to submit for a security clearance, he suspected that he would be asked to work on the bomb program. He declined.
Krige: I did not want to be any part of building a nuclear weapon for the white South African regime of the day which was dedicated to a political program, which I found completely abhorrent. And for me to lend my skills and talents to that regime to build a bomb was simply morally unacceptable.
Schapiro: By the early 1980s, South Africa had the bomb.
Frederik Willem de Klerk: The thinking and the policy which was followed was not to admit it but also not to fully deny it.
Montgomery: Frederik de Klerk was minister of mining when he was told about the country's weapons program. He toured Kentron Circle where Andre Buys' team was assembling the bomb. De Klerk says the financial burden was huge, but he concedes that nuclear weapons gave apartheid leaders a sense of strength.
de Klerk: And the whole strategy was to keep the world guessing. I have no doubt in my mind that America, for instance, knew, or rather in their strategy, accepted that we had it.
Schapiro: Like Buys, de Klerk says the bombs were never intended to be used other than as a diplomatic weapon. But new evidence suggests some South African politicians did contemplate nuclear strikes. Stephen Burgess has done extensive research on the South African bomb. He teaches military strategy at the U.S. Air War College.
Stephen Burgess: Recently there was declassified information which showed that during the mid-1970s that South Africa was considering the development of tactical nuclear weapons and missiles to deliver those weapons to strike at African capitals such as Luanda, Angola, Lusaka, Zambia, possibly even bases of African nationalist guerilla movements.
Montgomery: In 1989, Frederick de Klerk became President of South Africa. The world was changing. The Soviet Union's empire was collapsing. Peace accords ended the wars in southern Africa and talks were beginning with South Africa's black majority.
de Klerk (news tape): The time for negotiation has arrived.
Montgomery: One of President de Klerk's first actions was to rethink the bomb program.
de Klerk: We had to do something to get the world to support our process of negotiations, rather than to just stand aside and say, "Well, we'll see what the outcome." And I believed that dismantling the bombs would have a positive effect on the evaluation of the world with regard to our integrity on the negotiations and with regard to our good faith. And we reached consensus; yes, we must put a stop to it.
Montgomery: de Klerk abandoned the bomb program.
Nelson Mandela: I, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, do hereby say to be faithful to the Republic of South Africa.
Schapiro: When Nelson Mandela followed de Klerk as president, South Africa was the only country in history to voluntarily dismantle its nuclear arsenal.
Montgomery: Experts say some lessons from South Africa apply today. For one, security matters. If a country feels less threatened by its neighbors and more connected to the world community, it will be less likely to develop a bomb. But author James Sanders, who has investigated South Africa's intelligence agencies, says there's a more sobering lesson: Smuggling channels thrive when a country is isolated or under sanctions. And those networks die hard.
James Saunders: Those channels are very, very strong. They're forged in the fire of sanctions where people are trying to stop you at every turn. Once you've developed a network that can defeat stringent sanctions, it's quite easy. Those channels remain open. They don't close down.
Schapiro: And that brings our story back to Tradefin and the Khan network.
Montgomery: The men behind the Tradefin deal had deep roots in nuclear smuggling. They were among the sanctions-busters who delivered sophisticated technology to scientists like Andre Buys who built South Africa's bomb. When South Africa gave up the bomb, the Tradefin team moved to the international marketplace and linked up with A.Q. Khan.
Newsreel: Daniel Geiges, mechanical engineer and Swiss national who worked inside the world's largest black market nuclear network.
Schapiro: Earlier this year, the last suspect in the Tradefin case, Daniel Geiges, pleaded guilty to violating South Africa's laws on nuclear non-proliferation. Others, including the owner of Tradefin, also pleaded guilty. In exchange for their cooperation, none of the suspects in the case will serve prison time.
Montgomery: Remarkably, despite calls by world leaders and the U.N. to bring members of the Khan network to justice, there's been only one other successful prosecution; a Dutch businessman sentenced to four months in prison in 2005. Experts say a lack of cooperation among Western powers has hampered prosecutions. In Switzerland, a highly anticipated case against a family of engineers accused of helping A.Q. Khan faced collapse in early 2008. And one key suspect was allowed to go free. David Albright blames the development in part on the United States' failure to cooperate with Swiss prosecutors.
Albright: The fact the U.S. won't cooperate with the Swiss prosecutors is extremely frustrating and short-sighted. It's not a lot of cooperation the Swiss have been asking for but the U.S. is not giving it.
Montgomery: And in South Africa, several Western countries declined to cooperate in the Tradefin case. Abdul Minty is South Africa's minister for non-proliferation.
Abdul Minty: Some countries that we knew were particularly well-placed to assist us did not assist us in the way that we expected.
Schapiro: Minty did not specify which countries he was referring to. But the indictment in the Tradefin case cites evidence from at least four countries: Germany, Switzerland, Malaysia and the United States. And according to court documents, the U.S. Department of Energy refused to allow its experts to publicly testify in that case. David Albright and other experts speculate that the U.S. is withholding legal assistance to protect intelligence sources and methods.
Albright: Helping countries build nuclear weapons should be a crime against humanity and yet in reality, these crimes are viewed as fairly small.
Montgomery: The Department of Energy declined to comment, as did a State Department official. So we turned to John Bolton. He was one of the Bush administration's top policy makers on nuclear issues. Bolton says sometimes military and intelligence operations trump prosecutions if the target is a grave international threat.
John Bolton: Life is not about whether you prevail in a criminal trial or not. And the safety of the United States shouldn't depend on due process for would-be proliferators. That doesn't mean we shouldn't move against the networks and destroy them.
Montgomery: So has the U.S. strategy worked? William Tobey, a senior official with the National Nuclear Security Administration is confident the Khan network has been demolished.
William Tobey: I don't believe the network can now function; that the proliferation activities have largely stopped and there's been substantial follow-up in making sure that those who were involved in it are brought to some form of justice.
Joseph Cirincione: It's just not true.
Montgomery: Nuclear expert Joseph Cirincione doesn't share the government's optimism.
Cirincione: The global nuclear black market is still alive and well, despite claims by both the U.S. administration and the leadership in Pakistan that the A.Q. Khan network has been smashed. A couple of people have been arrested, a few people tried, but all the suppliers, all the connectors, all the expediters are still out there.
Schapiro: Meanwhile, A.Q. Khan himself is still a national hero inside Pakistan. He has issued an apology and is under so-called "house arrest" in his luxury mansion. The government of Pakistan has refused repeated requests to make Khan available for questioning by either the International Atomic Energy Agency or the United States.
Smith: This is Stephen Smith. You're listening to Business of the Bomb. To learn more about the complex world of nuclear smuggling, visit our Web site at AmericanRadioWorks.org. You can also download this and many other American RadioWorks programs at AmericanRadioWorks.org. Major funding for American RadioWorks comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Support for this program was provided by the Ploughshares Fund and the Kendeda Sustainability Fund of the Tides Foundation. Business of the Bomb was produced in cooperation with the Center for Investigative Reporting. Our program continues in just a moment from American Public Media.
Smith: Welcome to Business of the Bomb, an American RadioWorks documentary from American Public Media. I'm Stephen Smith, and I'm at the New York Mercantile Exchange. This is the world's largest energy exchange. All kinds of powerful stuff gets bought and sold here: crude oil, natural gas, electricity, coal. Business is booming. Billions of dollars in trade passes through this place every day. If you look up over the trading pits, you can see a massive electronic scoreboard wrapping around the room. Crude oil is selling today for $99.10. And then there's uranium. It's going for $78. Uranium is the newest item on the energy menu here, and uranium today is selling at four times the price when uranium trading started in May 2007. Officials here at the New York Mercantile Exchange say global demand for energy is pushing uranium prices higher.
Prices are up because uranium provides fuel for nuclear reactors. And more nuclear power plants are being built around the world. It's a trend that worries some nuclear weapons experts because the same substance that runs power plants, uranium, is a key ingredient in nuclear bombs. The only difference is how the uranium is processed, how much it's enriched.
Fifty years ago, a global surge in nuclear technology led countries like India, Pakistan and South Africa to learn how to build their own nuclear weapons. Are we facing the same danger again with other countries? Our story continues as American RadioWorks' Michael Montgomery and Mark Schapiro from the Center for Investigative Reporting visit an atomic trade show.
Montgomery: This is Michael Montgomery. We're at the winter meeting of the American Nuclear Society in Washington, D.C.. It's an event where big shots in the nuclear world from scientists to reactor salesmen, gather to discuss the latest in nuclear technology.
Schapiro: I'm Mark Schapiro. This year's conference title reflects a bullish mood in the nuclear industry: Making the Renaissance Real, as in nuclear renaissance.
Montgomery: Lots of big companies here: GE, Westinghouse, Bechtel.
Schapiro: There's a lot of enthusiasm in these halls for a revival of nuclear energy.
It's really like a trade fair, it's an automobile trade fair except it happens to be nuclear energy technology. There's no question that if there is a renaissance of nuclear power, this is one of the places where you can begin to sense that.
Montgomery: All the big players in the nuclear industry are here, including Westinghouse. A video monitor shows off Westinghouse's dream machine, the AP1000 nuclear reactor.
Video: Westinghouse Electric Company, the pioneer in nuclear energy, once again sets a new industry standard with the introduction of the AP1000, the safest and most economical nuclear power plant available in the worldwide commercial marketplace.
Bob Pearce: We think we've made a reactor here that is very economical and we think it will face up well to the other technologies that are out there, both nuclear and non-nuclear.
Schapiro: Bob Pearce is a director of global marketing for Westinghouse. During the Cold War, Pearce served as a naval officer in a nuclear submarine, patrolling the icy waters of the North Sea. Today he's selling nuclear technology in dozens of countries. Some are former enemies. Others are new to the nuclear world.
Pearce: This technology that we're talking about is very accessible around the world and so this is - the global marketplace has changed. Many more countries have the ability to sustain this technology. Many more countries have the ability to develop this technology and, in fact, deliver it themselves.
Montgomery: As possible new customers, Pearce cites countries such as Turkey, Egypt and even Ghana. He says new designs make the systems cheaper, more efficient and yes, safer.
Schapiro: It's an industry that's been in hibernation for about 20 years now actually, since our own Three Mile Island and certainly since Chernobyl. And a couple of people have told us, if you look around, most of the people here are old.
Montgomery: The nuclear industry has taken a backseat to coal and oil for decades, in part because of concerns about its safety. But the U.N. says hundreds of new nuclear power plants could be in operation within 20 years. Tariq Rauf is a senior official with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Tariq Rauf: People don't want to burn coal that pollutes the atmosphere. Everyone knows the earth is warming. The polar ice caps are melting. So we need a source of energy that does not add to the carbon burden of the world. And nuclear is one such energy source.
Susan Hess: A few years ago, nuclear power was on the out. Everybody thought we were going to decommission plants.
Schapiro: Susan Hess is a spokesperson for Areva, a French-owned nuclear giant.
Hess: Now we understand that really, the only way to go is to build more nuclear power plants.
Montgomery: But first, the nuclear industry has to scramble to rebuild its infrastructure, starting with its workforce. That's why on the sidelines of the conference, there's a sort of nuclear job fair.
Gary Minona: It's an exciting time to be in the nuclear industry. We're in the midst of a new nuclear renaissance, not only in the U.S. but all over the entire world.
Schapiro: Areva is recruiting with a cocktail party. Vice-President Gary Minona is trying to wow engineering students who sip free drinks and nibble on food.
Minona: We believe that we are the most integrated company in the world right now. The message should be clear that you have a lot of opportunities to locate yourself and/or your families throughout North America, through Canada and frankly, throughout the world.
Schapiro: Listening to the Areva pitch is Jason Andres. He's an engineering junior at Idaho State University.
Jason Andress: I am being recruited. I've talked to Areva. I had an interview with them yesterday. I'm just kind of seeing what opportunities our company has that might match up with what I'm interested in doing.
Montgomery: What are you interested in?
Andress: I'm interested in the fuel cycle, on the back end, kind of what we do after we pull the fuel out of the reactor for the first time.
Montgomery: A lot of people are interested in what happens with nuclear fuel because nuclear fuel can power the reactors that make electricity. But at higher enrichment levels, it provides the key ingredient for bombs.
Tariq Rauf: This is the conundrum of the nuclear age.
Montgomery: Tariq Rauf with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Rauf: The atom was born military and we have tried to civilianize it; we meaning the international community. But it always retains this military potential which is the potential for nuclear weapons.
Montgomery: Certainly this is the lesson from the past. Historically the spread of nuclear power has been paralleled by an increase in the number of countries that have the bomb. Even the best-intentioned efforts to provide energy to countries that desperately need it can lead to more nuclear weapons.
Schapiro: Sixty years ago, the world was recovering from devastating warfare, including the atomic bombing of Japan by the United States. America began promoting the peaceful benefits of the atom.
Dwight Eisenhower: The United States knows that peaceful power from atomic energy is no dream of the future.
Schapiro: That's President Dwight D. Eisenhower speaking to the U.N. General Assembly in 1953. He was announcing one of the most ambitious efforts of his administration.
Eisenhower: Who can doubt, if the entire body of the world's scientists and engineers had adequate amounts of fissionable material with which to test and develop their ideas, that this capability would rapidly be transformed into universal, efficient and economic usage.
Montgomery: Eisenhower's plan became known as "Atoms for Peace." The aim was to get the international community to focus on civilian uses of the atom, rather than military applications.
Film: Here, in fact, is the answer to a dream as old as man himself. A giant of limitless power at man's command.
Montgomery: As this promotional film suggests, atomic energy was seen as the world's salvation.
Cirincione: When President Eisenhower proposed the program in the 1950s, people really thought that this was going to make electricity so cheap, we wouldn't have to meter it.
Montgomery: Author and nuclear expert Joseph Cirincione.
Cirincione: We had witnesses in Congress talking about atomic-powered airplanes and cars and individual generators. It was this fantasy world they thought was going to happen. So how could you deny this to the rest of the world? You can't. In fact, you wanted the rest of the world to get this. This was an energy supply for Africa, for Asia, that could solve global poverty.
Film: America, as President Eisenhower pointed out to the United Nations, deeply desires to join countries all over the globe in adapting the atom to the arts of peace.
Rauf: Eisenhower's vision was Atoms for Peace.
Montgomery: Tariq Rauf
Rauf: He really understood that the atom has two sides; one side is for peaceful use, for human development, and the other is the misuse of the atom to make nuclear weapons. So if one can facilitate cooperation and the peaceful uses of the atom, … that's the future.
Schapiro: There were other motives behind Atoms for Peace.
Montgomery: The Cold War was heating up. The U.S. and Soviets were building huge weapons arsenals. The U.S. calculated that the promise of abundant atomic energy would attract new allies. John Krige is a history professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology
John Krige: It was an effort to win hearts and minds and to make sure that countries that wanted nuclear technology would get it from the United States and wouldn't be tempted to seek it from the Soviet Union.
Montgomery: Eisenhower's plan was to offer nuclear energy in exchange for countries agreeing not to seek atomic weapons. He called for rigorous inspections under a newly-created International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure that nuclear materials were only put to peaceful uses.
Schapiro: But by the time Eisenhower left office, there were growing concerns that U.S. and Soviet nuclear exports were planting the seeds for more bomb programs. Catherine Collins is a journalist and co-author of The Nuclear Jihadist.
Catherine Collins: By the late 1950s and early 1960s, the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies were reporting already, and warning about potential of the spread of nuclear weapons know-how. They were worried that the spread of nuclear know-how might enable other countries to cross that murky divide between the civilian and military uses of this nuclear technology.
Schapiro: The CIA's worries were well-founded. In addition to exporting research reactors and other hardware, Atoms for Peace trained thousands of foreign scientists in nuclear technology. Some returned home to work on military programs. Historian John Krige.
Krige: Some countries that would never have perhaps had access to nuclear technology, or never have embraced it enthusiastically, were strongly encouraged by the United States to begin a small nuclear program of their own. As their engineers became better trained and better skilled, many of them, of course, saw the possibility of using the self-same technology, or a more sophisticated version of it, for developing bomb-grade material and eventually a bomb. By making nuclear material available to other nations and by training their engineers and scientists in nuclear science and engineering, one made the eventual production of a bomb possible.
Schapiro: Fear of the spread of nuclear weapons led to the landmark Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Lyndon Johnson: We have come here today to the East Room of the White House to sign a treaty which limits the spread of nuclear weapons.
Schapiro: Lyndon Johnson signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1968. The treaty subjects signatory countries to inspections by the IAEA to ensure that the enriched uranium used for power plants is not transferred to weapons. The treaty also calls on the nuclear powers to reduce their arsenals. More than 180 countries have joined.
Montgomery: But not everyone signed on. India, Pakistan, Israel and apartheid South Africa rejected the treaty and developed weapons programs from Western and Soviet technology. Catherine Collins.
Collins: The chairman of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission once said that the initial Atoms for Peace program had been, and he used the word "bedrock," he called it the "bedrock on which India's nuclear program was built." And we all know that when India built their program in reaction, or out of concern or fear of the Chinese program, Pakistan was spurred on to work on theirs.
Montgomery: Analyst Joseph Cirincione worries that today's nuclear renaissance could pose the same problem. If it's not handled carefully, it could give more countries the capability to design bomb programs.
Cirincione: It's an over-used phrase, but we really are at a tipping point.
Montgomery: Cirincione cites projections of as many as 1000 new reactors in the next 30 years.
Cirincione: If you do that, you're going to need new waste disposal facilities. You're going to need new uranium enrichment facilities to make the fuel for these reactors. If you do that, you are then directly confronting the fundamental problem of nuclear power: that is the same facilities that can enrich these materials for fuel, that can reprocess these materials for storage, can also be used to make bombs and this is the great danger.
Schapiro: Caught in the middle of these challenges is the International Atomic Energy Agency
Montgomery: The IAEA occupies a cluster of office buildings in a neighborhood of Vienna overlooking the Danube. The flags of every member nation flap in the courtyard. Inside, a maze of corridors bustles with scientists, inspectors and diplomats from around the world. The agency has an awkward dual mandate: promoting nuclear technology while also verifying that nuclear fuel is not being diverted to bombs. Tariq Rauf heads the IAEA's Verification Division here.
Rauf: Even today, more than 60 years after the Manhattan Project, the single biggest obstacle to making a nuclear weapon is to get the right quantity and type of highly-enriched uranium, uranium enriched above 95 percent, or plutonium. Once a country can get one or both of those materials, the remaining part of the work in designing the explosive package is no longer that complicated. This is where the IAEA comes in. We do the verification at the enrichment plants to ensure that the material is used exclusively for peaceful purposes.
Montgomery: That's why the agency is investing huge resources on monitoring places that enrich uranium or which have the potential to do so.
Schapiro: In the heart of the IAEA complex, a large electronic wall panel flickers with small symbols scattered across a map of the world. They mark nuclear sites which are feeding daily information from cameras and sensors to the IAEA.
Marfred Zendel: What you're looking here is a network monitor which gives you the state of health to each connection in the field.
Schapiro: Manfred Zendel is in charge of the agency's electronic surveillance. He explains that on the other end of each of those flickering lights is a camera, sealed and locked in place, taking continuous photographs of uranium supplies to ensure none are diverted.
Zendel: As long as it is green, we are happy.
Montgomery: It's a complex and expensive operation, requiring hundreds of staff and field inspectors. But some of the technology is old. The computers are connected to dial-up modems, and the IAEA is operating under a zero-growth budget. But the number of power plants could double in the next 15 years.
What's more, the IAEA can only monitor enrichment plants that it knows about. What happens if a country builds one in secret? John Bolton, a former diplomat in the Bush Administration, is a critic of the agency. He says it doesn't have much power to investigate.
Bolton: The only sleuthing that the IAEA can do is when national governments give it intelligence that it can act on. That's why the idea that the IAEA is, as the press likes to call it, the U.N.'s "nuclear watchdog" is just silly.
Montgomery: Bolton points out that the A.Q. Khan network was selling uranium enrichment services to North Korea and to Libya right under the nose of the agency. He says Khan's enterprise was finally exposed by U.S. and British investigators, not by the IAEA.
Schapiro: But the Libya episode helped push the agency in a more aggressive direction from verification to detection. David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq, says the IAEA's detective skills have vastly improved.
Albright: And they can detect just minute traces of plutonium or highly-enriched uranium.
Schapiro: Albright points to the IAEA's high-security laboratory, located here in the rolling hills east of Vienna.
Christian Schmitzer: I'll open this secure door here.
Schapiro: This is the world's nuclear evidence room run by the lab's chief scientist, Christian Schmitzer.
Schmitzer: I'm afraid this is quite a noisy environment here. This is where we do screening of all the samples we receive.
Schapiro: The scientists here can analyze a speck of dust from a windowsill down to the atomic level and determine whether enriched uranium has been in the vicinity.
Schmitzer: The trick is to find in the midst of hundred thousands of millions particles, the correct ones.
Albright: Environmental sampling is one of the most powerful tools they have to uncover lies by nations about secret nuclear activities.
Schapiro: It was here that the IAEA found evidence that raised questions about Iran's intentions with uranium enrichment.
Montgomery: The IAEA's inspection powers come from a series of international agreements. But Joseph Cirincione says the current rules are inadequate to handle a global expansion of nuclear energy.
Cirincione: There's a hole so big in these rules that you can drive a nuclear weapons program through. We're seeing it in one instance with Iran. We could see it in the next 10, 20 years with Saudi Arabia, with Egypt, with Turkey. There's a dozen countries on these political-strategic fault lines that could develop nuclear power programs, not only for the energy they would produce, but as a nuclear hedge.
Montgomery: The United States has proposed one plan for halting the spread of nuclear weapons: let countries build new nuclear power plants, but don't let them build uranium enrichment plants. They'd have to get fuel from countries that already have the enrichment plants. In return, those countries would ensure a steady supply of fuel. President Bush proposed that deal in 2004.
Bush: The world's leading nuclear exporters should ensure that states have reliable access at reasonable cost to fuel for civilian reactors, so long as those states renounce enrichment and reprocessing.
Schapiro: President Bush said the proposal would stop countries from developing bombs under cover of civilian enrichment programs. But developing countries reject the idea. Abdul Minty is South Africa's ambassador for non-proliferation. He says the Bush plan amounts to a nuclear cartel.
Minty: It means that those in developed countries who already have the capacity to enrich and who sell their enriched uranium, they would keep it among themselves. No one else can share that.
Montgomery: Countries with no enrichment plants fear that their fuel supplies would be subject to political interference. So the IAEA is developing a compromise: a complex system of internationally-controlled supply banks that would ensure countries' continuous deliveries of nuclear fuel. That could reduce the need to enrich their own uranium. Without secure fuel supplies, Tariq Rauf says countries that want enriched uranium badly enough will find a way to make it.
Rauf: It is a myth that developing countries are too stupid or too poor or too ignorant to develop the most sophisticated technologies. This is happening. This is a global world now. One cannot stop the flow of information and technology.
Montgomery: And once countries have the ability to make fuel, there are people who will sell them the machinery to make nuclear bombs.
Smith: I'm Stephen Smith. International arms control agreements are credited with helping to keep the world from blowing itself up so far. When Lyndon Johnson signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1968, he spoke of a day when "the world moves out of the night of war and into the light of sanity and security". The treaty has held for all these years. It's inspired the U.S. and Russia to cut back on their weapons arsenals. In fact, fuel from dismantled Soviet weapons now powers many nuclear plants in America.
But there are still worrying signs. At least nine countries in the Middle East have said they might develop nuclear energy programs, possibly as a hedge against a nuclear Iran. Meanwhile, many countries are still trying to dismantle the nuclear black market.
Many experts say the solution lies in a new global compact controlling nuclear technology. But some countries never agreed to the first one. And some of them went on to develop nuclear weapons anyway. Creating a new treaty today, and getting more than 200 nations to agree to it, may be an impossible task.
Business of the Bomb was reported and produced by Michael Montgomery and Mark Schapiro. It was edited by Catherine Winter. We had help from Sasha Aslanian, Emma Brown, Ellen Guettler, Ochen Kaylan, Suzanne Pekow, Craig Thorsen and Tom Mudge. I'm Stephen Smith.
To read and see more about nuclear smuggling, visit our website at AmericanRadioWorks.org. There you can also download this program and sign up for our podcast. Business of the Bomb was produced in cooperation with the Center for Investigative Reporting. Support for this program was provided in part by the Ploughshares Fund and the Kendeda Sustainability Fund of the Tides Foundation. Major funding for American RadioWorks comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.