How the US and China collaborated to get nuclear material out of Nigeria — and away from terrorist groups
Over the past 6 months and through peak tensions in the U.S.-China trade war, the U.S. cooperated with China and several other countries to remove enriched, weapons-grade uranium out of Nigeria at risk of theft by terror groups or other malicious actors. While the facility did not contain enough of the material for a nuclear warhead, it was enough to pose a significant threat as a dirty bomb or be combined with similar material from another source in order to build a nuclear bomb. The combination of scientific advances (allowing the replacement of weapons-grade uranium with “lightly enriched uranium”) and destabilization of the area where the research facilities is located meant that this material needed to be evacuated from the country quickly. These replacement efforts, however, were complicated in October when regional violence erupted and the local governor declared a curfew. Over the next months, workers from Russia, the U.S., China, and elsewhere worked on a highly complex and technical project to switch out nuclear reactor pieces, with the U.S. providing most of the funding and adding extra troops into the region to ensure local stability. Russian contractors provided the transport services and the material was taken to China, where it will likely be reprocessed and partially recycled for military or civilian use. According to the IAEA, the joint project “manifests the determination and joint effort of several governments and organizations in preventing nuclear proliferation…even though the national-level conversation is really poor because of trade and other issues, the technical collaboration between laboratories, between nuclear engineers, that’s generally gone pretty well.” The continuation of this communication channel remain uncertain as the trade war continues and spreads into more areas.