updated 9/27/2004 1:20:07 AM ET 2004-09-27T05:20:07

Guests: Rory Kennedy, Luis Reyes, Richard Lugar, Graham Allison

ANNOUNCER:  DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT.

DEBORAH NORVILLE, HOST:  Nuclear defense.  Could terrorists fly a jetliner into a nuclear power plant?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT F. KENNEDY, JR.:  We should have a no-fly zone over the Indian Point power plant, but at this point, we don‘t have one.

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NORVILLE:  Indian Point, a nuclear facility just 35 miles from mid-town Manhattan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT F. KENNEDY, JR.:  Twenty million people.  This area could be uninhabitable.

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NORVILLE:  Imagining the unthinkable—it‘s the focus of a controversial new film by Rory Kennedy and her brother, Robert Kennedy, Jr., and a growing concern all over America, terrorists hitting a nuclear power plant or transporting a nuclear device into the United States.  Does this symbol of the cold war represent a frightening new possibility as terrorists keep their sights on striking the U.S. again?

ANNOUNCER:  From studio 3K in Rockefeller Center, Deborah Norville.

NORVILLE:  And good evening, everybody.  When it comes to nuclear terrorism, some people say it is no longer a question of if, but when.  The 9/11 commission report said al Qaeda has been trying to acquire or build nuclear weapons for at least 10 years.  There are thousands of nuclear weapons throughout the former Soviet Union.  North Korea is believed to have them.  Iran is believed to be working on a nuclear weapons program.

Meantime, the vulnerability of American nuclear power plants has become a lightning rod in the debate after 9/11.  Less than one hour from where I‘m sitting here in mid-town Manhattan is the 40-year-old Indian Point nuclear power plant.  A new documentary on HBO this month entitled “Indian Point: Imagining the Unimaginable” questions the safety and security of that plant and the threat an attack on the plant would pose to New York City and the areas surrounding it.

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ROBERT F. KENNEDY, JR.:  On September 11, 2001, the hijackers actually used the Hudson River as a navigational point to find New York City.  If they had banked left and hit Indian Point, rather than proceeding down to the World Trade Center, this area, a 50-mile radius, 20 million people—this area could be uninhabitable today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NORVILLE:  Joining me now is Rory Kennedy, the filmmaker who produced and directed the documentary.  An accomplished filmmaker, she is the youngest of the 11 children of Ethel and the late Senator Robert Kennedy.

When did you first get scared about this power plant?  Because you used to live up that way.

RORY KENNEDY, DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER:  You know, I lived in Manhattan on 9/11, and I think that was really an event, obviously, that affected so many of us.  And in the weeks and months that followed, when we were all trying to make sense of it, one of the questions that kept coming up is what was going to be the next target.  And on everybody‘s short list was Indian Point.  And that was really the first time that it came on my radar screen as something to be concerned about.  And so I set out to do this documentary, to really investigate, is this something that we, in fact, have to be scared about, or is it just kind of the fear-mongering that was created, you know, right after 9/11?

NORVILLE:  And when you started doing your research, what was it that alarmed you to the extent that you said, I‘ve got to get my cameras, I‘ve got to find some funding and I‘ve got to do a story about this?

RORY KENNEDY:  Well, you know, I started investigating the issue, and the more I found out, the more scared I became, from talking to guards there, who they themselves felt that they couldn‘t defend the plant, that they weren‘t being given the resources, that they didn‘t have the wherewithal to protect the plant.  That there didn‘t exist a no-fly zone over Indian Point was absolutely shocking to me.  And I think, you know, how vulnerable it is from the air, looking—going up there and just looking at it from water, those—you know, it looks like a sitting duck.  I mean, it‘s...

NORVILLE:  It‘s so big!

(CROSSTALK)

RORY KENNEDY:  It‘s so big and it‘s so vulnerable and you—you know, you would expect to have ships out there and an army to protect it, given how volatile it can be.  And there‘s just very little.

NORVILLE:  I want to go to a clip in the movie when you and your brother, Bobby, did go up and did fly over and did, frankly, test to see if there was a no-fly zone or not over Indian Point.  Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RORY KENNEDY (voice-over):  Regardless, it was not at all reassuring when we were able to fly over the plant unimpeded.

(on camera):  Do you think it‘s surprising we‘ve now been up here for 25 minutes, that there have been no calls or questions about why we‘re up here and what we‘re doing?

ROBERT F. KENNEDY, JR.:  It not surprising to me that we‘re not being

·         that we‘re not being shooed away at this point because other people have done this and tested the defenses of Indian Point, the air defenses of Indian Point power plant, and there are none.  If you were in a small, like, a Cessna 172 right now, we‘re literally two or three seconds away from Indian Point, and there‘s nobody out there with any kind of protection.  There‘s no air protection at all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NORVILLE:  That, of course, was your brother, Bobby Kennedy, who has also been very active in fighting this particular installation.  Do you think that using him in the film opened you up to more criticism because River Keepers, your brother‘s organization, has been so vocal about Indian Point and other—other related issues?

RORY KENNEDY:  I think that‘s true somewhat, but I really tried to be very straightforward in the film, and within the first minute or so, I make it clear who I am and my association with Bobby and his work on really looking into this issue for the last couple years.  So I really tried to be pretty frank with the audience.  I wanted them to know where I was coming from.

NORVILLE:  But the folks who own Indian Point, a company called Entergy, which bought it about four years ago, said that you really weren‘t straight up with them.  And I want to share a statement that they gave to us.  This is from a spokesperson for the Entergy company.  It says, “When confronted with the fact that she”—meaning you—“was Robert F.  Kennedy, Jr.‘s sister and that she had not revealed that to us on her own, Rory Kennedy said her brother would not be involved in reviewing or promoting the documentary and that it would be scrupulously even-handed and balanced.”

I guess, if you split hairs, he‘s not out here promoting it.  But he certainly is a very big part of the film.  How do you respond?

RORY KENNEDY:  Well, that‘s not exactly what I communicated to them, and I was very straightforward in my initial correspondence with them as to who I was and what the film was about.  So I can‘t really agree with them entirely.  But you know, the truth is, is that what‘s presented in the film are the facts and the facts really speak for themselves.  And the facts of the matter are that, you know, this is in the most populated area surrounding any nuclear power plant in the country.  There is—the guard force itself doesn‘t feel that they can protect the plant.  The community...

NORVILLE:  And how many guards did you talk to?  When you talked to guards—and obviously, there‘s one that you have in the film who no longer works at the plant, and you talk about certain issues with respect to him.  But the guys that you did speak to who aren‘t on camera, who weren‘t for attribution—how many did you actually speak with?

RORY KENNEDY:  Well, we spoke with a number of guards, but one of the issues was because when Foster Zay (ph), who was the guard who was willing to come out on camera with us—when he came out and criticized Entergy and criticized the plant and how it was operating and the fact that he, though he was training the guards, didn‘t feel that they were in a position to actually protect the plant—when he criticized it, there was a real lockdown and...

NORVILLE:  So everybody else...

RORY KENNEDY:  ... and Foster...

NORVILLE:  ... got quiet?

RORY KENNEDY:  Yes.  I mean, you know, Foster‘s life was deeply affected by this.  And there was—you know, he was—I mean, he was considered a whistle-blower, and he now no longer works at the plant.  And you know, so it‘s created a fear amongst other guards to speak out.

NORVILLE:  Another big concern is—and you open the film with this possibility.  Instead of heading down the Hudson and aiming for the World Trade Center, the terrorists could have as easily aimed for the big sitting duck, Indian Point.

RORY KENNEDY:  Yes.  American Airlines flight 11 flew over Indian Point on its way down to New York City, and had that plane banked left, you know, it‘s really scary to think what New York would now be if that had happened.  And what I can tell you is what we know from Chernobyl, is that a 100-square-mile radius became permanently uninhabitable around Chernobyl after that accident.  And New York City is 35 miles south of Indian Point.  But the heart of New York City, 42nd Street...

NORVILLE:  And 20 million people live within...

RORY KENNEDY:  A 50-mile radius.

NORVILLE:  ... presumably, the affected area, if...

RORY KENNEDY:  So you know...

(CROSSTALK)

NORVILLE:  ... something that happened.

RORY KENNEDY:  And not only that, but in the spent fuel pools alone up at Indian Point, which are very, very vulnerable, in my mind...

NORVILLE:  But not in the mind of the company.  I‘ll let you make your point, but then I have to refute of them.

RORY KENNEDY:  Please.  The spent fuel pools have 20 times the amount of Cesium 137, which is the radioisotope that was most vulnerable and had the most effect in Chernobyl—there‘s 20 times the amount of that in one of the spent fuel pools alone.

NORVILLE:  And yet when confronted with these charges, the refuting is that the Sandia National Laboratories did a test to see if a jet could, indeed, impregnate one of these things, and the resulting test was that they‘re safe.

RORY KENNEDY:  Right.  Well, I mean...

NORVILLE:  There was a recent article in which 19 scientists, you know, did the peer review, and it appeared, and they all agreed with the findings of the laboratory.

RORY KENNEDY:  Right.  Well, I would encourage people to watch the film because if you actually—because in the film, we show the video that they‘re citing, and we show that test that they‘re citing.  And the test is just completely unfounded.  The people who conducted the test say that this test is not meant or intended to prove that a plane could sustain—that the containment zones could sustain an aircraft penetration.  It‘s just completely—they‘re completely different tests.

NORVILLE:  You also know that in the response to the advertisements and the publicity about your film, that people who disagree with some of your points have been just as vocal.  I‘ve got piles of paper, and I didn‘t bring half of it out here into the studio with me.  But one point that is made is, they say on June 10 of this past summer, your crew was present at a public meeting where the regional director for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was there, and the discussion was about Indian Point and an airplane and that a large aircraft would not cause a significant release of radiation.  Their point being your film crew was there, you didn‘t include that in the movie.

RORY KENNEDY:  OK, but the basis for what they‘re saying this is from the Sandia study, and the Sandia study has not been validated with any of the people who we spoke with and from—and even with the scientists who conducted the study.  They say it shouldn‘t prove it.

When they—I mean, I‘ll tell you a few specific points from that study.  They didn‘t use any fuel in the aircraft.  It wasn‘t full of fuel.  It was full of water.  It was a much smaller aircraft than a 767.  They penetrated a wall that was eight to nine feet thick, whereas up at Indian Point, the wall is three to five feet thick.  So we actually, in the film, go through it point by point as to why that—their argument that it could sustain this kind of...

NORVILLE:  Just doesn‘t hold water

RORY KENNEDY:  It just doesn‘t—it just doesn‘t hold up.  We‘re not saying that it definitely would be able to penetrate the containment zones, but they can‘t say that it wouldn‘t.  You know, it‘s just—and I think the further point...

(CROSSTALK)

NORVILLE:  ... those questions really matter.

RORY KENNEDY:  I think the further point that‘s very important is it‘s not just the containment domes that we have to worry about.  We also have to worry about the control center in the plant, which is extremely vulnerable and doesn‘t have a containment dome.  We have to worry about the spent fuel pools that don‘t have a containment dome.

So I think that, you know, the larger points are very important, which is that—you know, I don‘t think anybody can say this plant was created with a terrorist threat in mind, with 9/11 in mind.  It just wasn‘t.

NORVILLE:  And we all know that.

RORY KENNEDY:  At the end of the day, it just wasn‘t.  And it‘s understandable why they can‘t protect it.  But it‘s not being protected right now at the level that it needs to be, given the new threat, given 9/11, and given what we know from the 9/11 commission, which is that these are—you know, Indian Point and other nuclear power plants are prime targets.  New York City is a prime target.

NORVILLE:  Let me stop you there because, obviously, we want everyone to watch your movie and go out looking for answers themselves.  What is it you want people to do?

RORY KENNEDY:  Well, I want people to be aware of what‘s going on at Indian Point.  And I think that it—hopefully, it raises—will raise awareness not only about what‘s happening at Indian Point, but what are we doing, as a country, to protect our homeland?  What are we doing to protect our ports?  What are we doing to protect our chemical plants?  You know, and I know we‘re spending $200 billion in Iraq, but I‘m not sure that that‘s so prudent, given how vulnerable we are at places like Indian Point...

NORVILLE:  All right...

RORY KENNEDY:  ... when I consider this the front lines of the battle on terrorism.

NORVILLE:  The movie is called “Indian Point: Imagining the Unimaginable.”  The producer and director is Rory Kennedy.  Thanks for being with us.  And there are important questions that everybody worries about today.

When we come back—I should also note that it‘s on HBO and HBO 2 for the remainder of the month, so you‘ll be able to catch it.

Coming up next, we‘re going to get response to all this.  We‘ll be speaking with the executive director of operations for the Nuclear Regulatory Commissions.  We‘ll be getting his take on some of the issues raised by this documentary.  Stay tuned.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALEX MATTHIESSEN, EXEC. DIR., RIVER KEEPERS:  The issue is, could you have a major radiation release from Indian Point in the event of an accident and could the effects of that release be every bit as bad or worse than Chernobyl?  And the answer is absolutely, categorically yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NORVILLE:  That was Alex Matthiessen, the executive director of the environmental group River Keepers, in a clip from the HBO documentary “Indian Point: Imagining the Unimaginable.”

So are Indian Point and the 102 other nuclear reactors in the United States safe and secure in the event of a terrorist attack?  I‘m joined now by Luis Reyes.  He is the executive director for operations for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

And sir, I really appreciate your being with us.  I know after 9/11, there was a great deal of effort spent by the NRC to try to beef up security both in terms of manpower and just physically hardening plants.  What‘s been done around the country to make it better now than it was three years ago?

LUIS REYES, EXEC. DIR., OPNS., NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMM.:  Deborah, thank you for inviting me to the segment.  Because of the limited time, we can‘t go through all the details.  I‘m going to encourage the public to go to our Web page, www.nrc.gov, and see the complete list of all of the actions we have taken.

But let me just briefly mention some of the improvements that we have implemented, in terms of security.  Prior to September 11, there was very significant security at all the nuclear power plants in the country, and they were probably the most defended part of our infrastructure.  And subsequent to September 11, we have increased the number of armed guards, barriers for vehicles to larger span of distances, better training for the armed responders, better weapons.  We have review all the backgrounds of all employees that have access to the facilities.  And clearly, a complete improvement in all the secure response of the facilities.

NORVILLE:  What kind of better weapons?  I mean, how are these guys armed?  I mean, can they shoot an airplane down from the sky?  I wouldn‘t think you‘ve got, you know, grenade launchers up there, have you?

REYES:  None of the plants have ground-to-air missiles or weapons to turn—shot down airplanes.  Most of the airplane prevention in this country has been by the work from the FAA at the airports, where now you have reinforced cockpit doors, better screening of the passengers, X-ray of the luggage, et cetera, et cetera.

NORVILLE:  We‘re looking at some footage right now of security guards that are affiliated with the nuclear reactor plants around the country, and it all looks very professional.  But as I‘m sure you‘re aware, David Oreck (ph), who is an NRC official, testified before Congress in April 11 of 2002 and said that the NRC found, quote, “a significant weakness in armed response during 37 of 81 mock attacks that took place.”  That doesn‘t sound terribly reassuring.

REYES:  Well, since then, we have improved our requirements in terms of what‘s demanded from the facilities.  And the technical jargon for that is a design (ph) basis (ph) threat.  And the design basis threat have been increased, using intelligence information.  And those guards, detection equipment, barriers and weapons have all been improved.

NORVILLE:  You heard Ms. Kennedy just now charge that the exterior of the nuclear plants was simply not strong enough to withstand the crash of a 767 or similar kind of jet into the facility.

REYES:  We have done extensive vulnerability analyses subsequent to September 11, and we have concluded that there‘s a low probability that an aircraft such as a full-sized commercial jetliner full of fuel can do significant damage to the facility and that there could be a high release of radiation in a short amount of time.  So there‘s plenty of time for the facility to respond.  I think what...

NORVILLE:  Well, hold on a second.  Let me stop you there before you continue.  So you say an airplane could crash into the facility, but it wouldn‘t create a significant radiation leak?  Or are you saying an airplane couldn‘t crash into the facility?  Because I think we heard that before 9/11, and we know that was proved wrong.

REYES:  No, I‘m saying if an airplane were to crash, and we did what we call vulnerability analysis—if an airplane were to crash in the facility, we know by the studies that we have done there‘s a very low probability that there‘ll be both damage to the reactor core and, two, a significant release of radiation in a short amount of time.

What the lady forgets is that once there‘s a terrorist attack of a nuclear power plant, whether it‘s in the ground, in the water or through the air, there‘s a high-level emergency declare, regardless of whether there‘s a radiation release or not.  And what that means is that the emergency preparedness, the county and the state officials right away start mobilizing, moving away senior citizens, childrens in school.  And this is way before there‘s any kind of release.  It‘s just the result of the terrorist attack.

NORVILLE:  And what about the accusation made in the film that the spent fuel reactor pools are not significantly reinforced to prevent leakage in the event of some sort of an attack?

REYES:  We also have done studies of airplane crashes into the spent fuel pool, and what we find out is similarly that they are robust structures.  Of course, there‘ll be damage to that pool, but the releases that you‘re talking about are very limited because there‘s time to do mitigative actions.  What...

NORVILLE:  But wait a minute.  You‘re saying then that the structure can be ruptured and radiation can be released.  Shouldn‘t they be impregnable?

REYES:  They could be damaged, depending on what facility you‘re talking about.  But there‘s a difference between damaging an industrial facility and causing large radiation releases to occur and the public to be harmed.  I think they‘re confusing one with the other.

NORVILLE:  Why not just have a no-fly zone over there, and at least that way, if a plane wanders into the airspace, NORAD can scramble and take care of it?

REYES:  We met with the FAA subsequent to September 11, and it was their determination that nuclear power plants, chemical plants and other parts of the critical infrastructure should not receive a no-fly zone.  What they did issue was a notice to airmen which is to alert them not to remain in the area of the nuclear power plant.

NORVILLE:  Sir, does it make sense to you that you can fly over a nuclear power plant, but you can‘t fly over the Super Bowl?

REYES:  Well, you need to ask the FAA about how they determine those temporary restrictions, such as...

NORVILLE:  I‘m asking your opinion.

REYES:  Oh, I think that there‘s enough prevention in terms of the airplanes, with the cockpit doors, with the passenger screening, that that will help a lot.  And then the second part, which was never mentioned in the film, is that we have since September 11 made close arrangements and communications with NORAD, and NORAD has the duty to respond if there‘s any airplane over any part of the infrastructure.

NORVILLE:  All right.  Luis Reyes from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, thanks a lot for being with us.  I appreciate it.

REYES:  My pleasure.

ANNOUNCER:  Up next, safeguarding our nation from nuclear terrorism.  Just how easy would it be to smuggle a nuclear device into the United States?  Preventing a nuclear catastrophe when DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

NORVILLE:  It has been 59 years since the United States dropped an atomic bomb over Hiroshima, Japan, and in chilling fashion, ushered in the nuclear age.  The specter of that mushroom cloud has haunted Americans throughout the cold war.  And now, years after the end of the cold war, we face a renewed nuclear threat, this time from terrorists.

Joining me now is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Richard Lugar.  Back in 1991, he co-sponsored the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program to decommission nuclear weapons that remained after the collapse of the former Soviet Union.  Also with me tonight is Graham Allison.  He‘s the director of Harvard University‘s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, also the author of a new book entitled “Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe.”  Gentlemen, thank you both for being with us.

Senator, you have heard the fears raised based on this new documentary about Indian Point.  How likely is it that a terrorist today could command an airplane and crash it into a nuclear facility anywhere in the states? 

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR ®, INDIANA:  Well, I presume that it is possible. 

That clearly is one of the threats if a facility is hit. 

But, of course, there are others that seem to me to be more likely.  And that is that terrorists would actually possess a small nuclear, highly enriched uranium bomb or perhaps worst still obtain highly enriched uranium fuel sufficient to improvise a gun type weapon, a crude nuclear weapon that could of course bring about catastrophic casualties and property damage. 

And, of course, the fourth instance is the so-called dirty bomb situation, in which you really don‘t have highly enriched uranium, but at least there‘s some fissionable material that can create havoc in commercial areas.  So each of these posed their threats.  Clearly, the aircraft situation is one over which probably civil and military aviation authorities have more control. 

NORVILLE:  Sir, as you know, the GAO just this week day before yesterday released a report saying that the NRC can‘t even verify that every plant that exists today has taken adequate precautions to prevent terrorist threat, whatever form that threat might take.  How concerned are you by that? 

LUGAR:  Well, I‘m very concerned, and I‘m certain everybody involved in the homeland defense debate we have been having this week.  The appropriation bill has been on the floor.  This has been a highlight of trying to find the deficiencies in our nation‘s defense.  And certainly the nuclear plant security is one of them. 

NORVILLE:  Graham Allison, in your book, you go into great detail about many of the scenarios the senator just outlined.  Which to you, based on your research, seems the most likely to create a havoc-wreaking situation in this country? 

GRAHAM ALLISON, AUTHOR, “NUCLEAR TERRORISM”:  Well, I agree with Senator Lugar. 

I think the only real existential threat to America as we know it is a nuclear bomb, not a power plant, not a dirty bomb, but a real nuclear bomb going off in an American city and making a large portion of it disappear.  I think if we try to—nobody can psychologically put their mind around that.  But if we begin to try to imagine what Hiroshima would look like in San Francisco or Chicago or Boston and what life would be like in the United States thereafter, that would be the genuinely catastrophic attack that would, I say, change America as we know it. 

NORVILLE:  And since you bring it up, I just want to bring an excerpt from your book in to the discussion, when you talk about the consequences of a nuclear bomb detonating.

You say: “From the epicenter of the blast to a distance From the epicenter of the blast to a distance of approximately a third of mile, every structure and individual would vanish in a vaporous haze.  A second circle of destruction extending three-quarters of a mile from ground zero would leave buildings looking like the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City.  The third circle reaching out 1.5 miles would be ravaged by fires and radiation.  If it were Chicago and Sears Tower, you would basically have a firestorm that all the way to Comiskey and Wrigley Field.”

Pretty frightening stuff. 

ALLISON:  Well, I think the difficult problem for most of us, most Americans think nuclear weapons were part of the Cold War.  The Cold War is over.  We won.  Move on. 

But, unfortunately, the weapons themselves and the material from which weapons can be made didn‘t disappear with the end of the Cold War.  So trying to visualize the fact that this is now a genuine imminent threat to the U.S., as President Bush and Senator Kerry both say.  This is the greatest threat America faces today.  And the question is why we are not actually addressing it with the urgency that you would think would be associated with the greatest threat. 

NORVILLE:  Well, heaven knows Senator Lugar has done more than most in that regard. 

Senator, the legislation that you and Sam Nunn got passed was all about getting into the Soviet Union, to the former Soviet Union, decommissioning those weapons.  And we know this has been ongoing.  But it is a slow process.  Of the thousands that remained after the war, what percentage are still there? 

LUGAR:  Well, we have identified 13,300 nuclear warheads that were aimed at the United States or its allies. 

Now, approximately 6,400 of those have been taken off of the missiles.  Many of those warheads have been disassembled, although some still remain intact.  So we are really talking about half are out of commission.  The other half are not.  And I am among those that sees the urgency that Graham Allison has seen even in that particular situation, moving on with it while the window of history remains open.

But leaving that aside, the fact is that trying to get a missile or a warhead of that sort, terrorists would find all sorts of obstacles.  The real dilemma finally comes perhaps when the warhead is disassembled and highly enriched uranium occurs.  And the question of the guarding of that, security of that, what happens to it is of the essence. 

NORVILLE:  And there‘s also the question of preventing other countries from getting in the business of making highly enriched uranium.  And, indeed, two years ago, Graham Allison, North Korea admitted that it was working in that regard to do just that, to make highly enriched uranium.

ALLISON:  Absolutely. 

We have two test cases that are just about either break out, and in which case the whole system that we have known of as the Nonproliferation Treaty, and the regime that has constrained new states from getting nuclear weapons will collapse.  But we have a window of opportunity here for acting on it, North Korea and Iran.  In North Korean case, since January of 2003, they have been producing more plutonium every day to make additional weapons and they are also working on their enrichment for uranium.  Ditto with Iran.

Iran is now coming to the final stages, just to the finish line of having its factories that will be able to produce uranium and plutonium.  So these are the two most urgent threats on the entire scene today and they are a threat, indeed, I think to change the whole international environment if they succeed in their nuclear ambitions. 

NORVILLE:  I want to get into more detail on this in a moment. 

But, Senator, one of the things that President Bush has really held firm on is making sure that there were not bilateral discussions about this issue with North Korea.  And now there‘s a six-country consortium that is going to going to the table most likely after the election to talk about North Korea‘s nuclear program.  What do you expect to come from that at whatever point that discussion takes place? 

LUGAR:  Well, the six-power talks have been going on for some time, and from time to time there have been at least informal talks between the United States and North Korea, although you are correct that initially the Bush administration was very reticent to see even that occur. 

For the moment the North Koreans have told a British diplomat they don‘t want to talk about it until after our election is over.  At that point, my guess is that they will think about the beginnings at least of a solution that the United States has proposed that probably includes some type of assurance that we should not overthrow the North Korean regime and secondly we‘d work with other countries to provide food and energy, as the Chinese are now providing the energy, the U.N. World Food Program most of the food, but at least some economic sustenance for that starving country. 

(CROSSTALK)

NORVILLE:  Of course, we know that North Korea is willing to sell anything it can to anybody who will pay up for it.  And nuclear enriched uranium might be just one thing. 

When we come back, more with my guests about just how this dangerous material might end up in the wrong hands. 

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NORVILLE:  In the age of terror, it is one of the most terrifying scenarios, nuclear weapons falling in the hands of a group like al Qaeda.  Could it happen?

More in moment. 

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NORVILLE:  Continuing our discussion of the nuclear terror threat now with senator Richard Lugar and Graham Allison. 

Senator, you see all the intelligence.  How great do you think the risk is of al Qaeda getting a nuclear device of some sort?

LUGAR:  Well, there is no doubt that the al Qaeda operations have that objective.  But it could be very difficult for them to do so if the United States, Russia and other countries take the measures that we ought to take to secure the highly enriched uranium. 

That is probably the basic objective of al Qaeda.  And that is to get the highly enriched uranium and get a crude nuclear device.  Now, Graham Allison‘s book that you have mentioned offers a very good blueprint for thoroughness.  In other words, I agree with his optimism that it is not a question of whether it might happen.  Of course it might happen.  But the steps that we might take with other nations, if they are stringent enough and timely enough, will prevent it from happening. 

NORVILLE:  Well, that is nice, except, right now, our relationship with some of those other nations that we might need to be cooperating with is strained, one might say.

LUGAR:  Well, it is always going to be that way.  And I would just say, after 13 years of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Act, the ups and downs of the relations with Russia have been enormous. 

But throughout that period of time, most statesmen in both countries appreciated the threat.  So, as a result, the program plods on.  Now, we have problems in bureaucracy in our country that hobble our efforts, quite apart from the Russians or the Pakistanis or the Indians or quite part from our six-power negotiations with the North Koreans or the IAEA with Iran.

But that doesn‘t mean that we cannot be persistent.  We really have to be.  Our future depends on it. 

NORVILLE:  Absolutely.  Absolutely. 

And, Graham Allison, when—your book is just great, can I say.  I just couldn‘t stop reading t.  I was terrified, but I had to read on and find more.  And one of the things that I found so frightening and upsetting was when you see the complicity of certain countries.  And in the book, you detail many instances in which Pakistan in its nuclear program extended far beyond the borders of Pakistan.  There‘s been assistance given to Ira, certainly to Libya. 

And who is to say that there might not be some under-the-table assistance through sympathizers in the Pakistani government or hierarchy to al Qaeda? 

ALLISON:  I think unfortunately here we have no confidence that that hasn‘t occurred already or couldn‘t occur. 

I am a great admirer of Senator Lugar, who has been a real pioneer in working on this, and the patience as well as the vision that he represents.  But I think the urgency has not been there in recent years in our government or in the Russian government or in the others. 

We now know, just as we have learned in this past year that the head of the Pakistani nuclear weapons program, a guy who we know knows how to make nuclear weapons, A.Q. Khan, was simultaneously the global black marketeer selling the technology, selling bomb designs, selling nuclear material, selling nuclear consulting services to whomever would pay, at least to Iran, at least to Libya, at least to North Korea. 

And I think there are some others yet undisclosed.  Now, we‘re in the midst, as far as we can see, of the Pakistani government trying to get information out of A.Q. Khan and his associates more information about where all this stuff was—who was making it, where was it coming from, to whom did it go.  But I don‘t have confidence at all that we have gotten to the bottom of this one. 

(CROSSTALK)

NORVILLE:  And, yet, Senator, as I know you are aware, there was an instance in New York City.  It was something that was started after September 11 by a person code-named Dragonfire in which there was a very real fear that a 10-kiloton nuclear device was somewhere in New York City.  The federal government didn‘t even notify then Mayor Giuliani, yet a search was made to try to find this device.

Clearly, folks are on edge attention highest levels in Washington. 

LUGAR:  Well, of course.  They ought to be. 

And as we are all learning, we have to coordinate much better, our intelligence people, with the FBI and with local officials and with homeland defense first-providers and all the rest.

NORVILLE:  Yes. 

LUGAR:  Hopefully, we will all get better at it very rapidly.  But in the meanwhile, we can be taking, as Graham Allison said, much more urgent steps to narrow the window, because there is highly enriched uranium out there and, as his book and other studies have pointed out, maybe as many as 200 different laboratories in 32 different countries.  Russia has maybe 90 percent of the problem, but al Qaeda could get perhaps what they need in a lot of other places. 

NORVILLE:  You don‘t need much to make an impact.  That‘s for sure.

We are going to take a short break.  When we come back, we will discuss some of the possible solutions to this issue.  More with Senator Lugar and Graham Allison right after a short break. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NORVILLE:  Al Qaeda has threatened an American Hiroshima.  And there is deepening concern about just how easy it might be for terrorists to go nuclear.  But you can‘t go nuclear unless you have got the fission material to make an explosion. 

Back with Senator Dick Lugar and author Graham Allison.

Senator, how much worldwide cooperation is there in trying to lock down access to the fission material that we know exists out there? 

LUGAR:  Well, a great deal more now that these G-8 countries have joined with the United States in the so-called 10 plus 10 over 10 program.

That is the idea that the other seven nations of G-8 would put in as much money as we are in the next 10 years and work principally in the former Soviet Union.  But I think the dilemma here is that all of the bureaucrat problems this Russia have led to lack of liability insurance, some threats of taxation.  So the money is not flowing well.  That doesn‘t mean that it can‘t.

But this is going to require much more vigorous diplomacy on the part of Europeans, as well as ourselves, and cooperation from other nations.  It comes about sometimes unexpectedly, as in the case of Libya.  But as Graham Allison has pointed out, that was perhaps a consequence of the A.Q. Khan-Pakistan revelations that showed the ties with Libya, the ties with Iran, with North Korea. 

We are learning more.  That makes it helpful for other nations to zero in and be helpful to us. 

NORVILLE:  Yes. 

Graham Allison, in your book, you outline really four key points that you think could be enormously helpful in trying to keep this genie from jumping out of the bottle.  You want to outline them for us?

ALLISON:  Well, I think in one line, it is basically to lock down all the stuff that exists, clean it out of places where it is insecure, burn it up, as Senator Lugar was saying, and to prevent people from producing any more. 

I try to organize this under a doctrine of three no‘s, no loose nukes

·         that means locking it all down to a gold standard—no new nascent nukes—that means no new national production of fissile material—and no new nuclear weapon states.  And that means no nuclear North Korea. 

NORVILLE:  No nuclear North Korea.  And you have got to put the brakes on Iran.  Why would the country that has the world‘s second largest depository of oil need nuclear power? 

ALLISON:  Well, that is a very good question.  And that is being asked in Vienna at the IAEA meetings today. 

I think there is no doubt that Iran has serious nuclear weapons ambitions.  And I think that it has been a great source of negligence on the part of the American government and the other governments in the region that we have not gone to them and engaged them in what I call for in the book, a kind of a grand bargain for denuclearization, in which we would assemble all the carrots, but also all the sticks and in effect put it to them as part of a global group that would include the EU-3...

NORVILLE:  All right. 

ALLISON:  ... and Russia. 

But I think if we leave Iran to its current devices, it is a serial confessor of lying and cheating.  It‘s making a very serious effort to get nuclear weapons.  And it is actually pursuing its objectives more strategically and more effectively than the U.S. government has been pursuing ours. 

NORVILLE:  Yes. 

When you talk about what is going on overseas, you also have to look at the borders here at home.

Senator, I know Congress has appropriated a great deal of money to put radiation detectors in the nation‘s ports.  And yet, as of January of this year, there is apparently only one in operation down at Hampton Roads in Virginia.  Why has there not been a greater sense of urgency to install these things?  Because that‘s one way of telling if nuclear material is coming in. 

LUGAR:  Well, I suppose the answer is why indeed. 

I think I share the frustration of many that we are not moving with the aggressive posture we need to on this.  I applaud those in homeland defense who are trying to do better.  And I want to mention specifically Spence Abraham, the secretary of energy, who has reached out with a bold new program this year to try to lasso some of that highly enriched uranium or spent fuel wherever it is, so that we are somewhat more vigorous out there likewise.

But all of this, as Graham Allison has pointed out, has lacked the money, the urgency, the international cooperation.  Now, at the end of the day, I think his analysis and mine would be that we have to be more vigorous diplomatically. 

We also finally at the end of the day have to be threaten the use of force. 

NORVILLE:  Yes. 

LUGAR:  Now, you mention that and a lot of nations become very, very nervous, including a lot of Americans, who say, is it really that serious?  Are you prepared really to get into military action to stop North Korea or Iran or whoever?  And the answer probably has to be yes if we are to be credible finally at the end of the day in getting it all cleaned up. 

NORVILLE:  Yes.  Well, I‘ll tell you, if you want to send a message to politicians, this is the time of year to do it, because a lot of folks have got to stand for reelection.  And if you feel strongly about this, I bet calling your congressman or senator would be a good idea right about now.

Senator Lugar, as always, thank you so much for being with us.

LUGAR:  Thank you.  

(CROSSTALK)

NORVILLE:  Graham Allison, your book if fabulous.  I recommend it to everybody. 

ALLISON:  Thank you very much.

NORVILLE:  We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NORVILLE:  We love hearing from you.  Send us your ideas and comments to us at NORVILLE@MSNBC.com.  Some of your e-mails are posted on our Web page, NORVILLE.MSNBC.com. 

That is our program for tonight.  I‘m Deborah Norville.  Thanks so much for watching.  We‘ll see you next time.

END   

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