Science and Technology

Why the Soviet nuclear arsenal stayed secure as the nation collapsed

The nukes and avoiding a full-blown civil war would be the two most important considerations involved in a US breakup.

By Clifton B. Parker, Stanford

A professor of management science and engineering explains how cooperation between U.S. and Russian scientists helped prevent a post-Cold War catastrophe.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the worry in the West was what would happen to that country’s thousands of nuclear weapons. Would “loose” nukes fall into the hands of terrorists, rogue states, criminals – and plunge the world into a nuclear nightmare? Fortunately, scientists and technical experts in both the U.S. and the former Soviet Union rolled up their sleeves to manage and contain the nuclear problem in the dissolving Communist country.

One of the leaders in this relationship was Stanford engineering professor Siegfried Hecker, who served as a director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory before coming to Stanford as a senior fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation. He is a world-renowned expert in plutonium science, global threat reduction and nuclear security.


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