In September 1997, reports emerged that the Soviet military intelligence agency (the GRU) had developed numerous "suitcase bombs." These reports alleged that the bombs measured 24 x 16 x 8 inches (60 x 40 x 20 centimeters), and were to be used by intelligence agents in Western cities in the event of a superpower war.

On 7 September 1997, the CBS newsmagazine Sixty Minutes broadcast an alarming story in which former Russian National Security Adviser Aleksandr Lebed claimed that the Russian military had lost track of more than 100 suitcase-sized nuclear bombs, any one of which could kill up to 100,000 people.

Though doubts have been raised as to the credibility of the reports, a bomb this small is theoretically possible. Carey Sublette of the Federation of American Scientists notes that the smallest critical mass for plutonium is a 10.5 kg sphere 10.1 cm across. While this minimal critical mass alone could not cause an explosion, as little as 10 percent more plutonium could produce a .01-.02 kiloton explosion (10-20 tons of TNT), while 20 percent more plutonium could produce a .2 kt (200 ton) explosion. Not only would the explosions themselves be deadly, but the resulting radiation, especially in heavily populated areas, would be catastrophic. To fit this type of device into a suitcase only eight inches wide would probably require that the device use a linear implosion technology that would "squish" the plutonium into a large critical mass, allowing it to explode.

None the less... it's damned scary.

The Russian report wasn't really an admission. It was a statement by a Colonel in the internal security forces, which was promptly denied by the Armed Forces responsible for the devices. Although no-one (without large security clearances at least) knows what the truth is, there is a strong reason to doubt the validity or at least extent of the threat reported, since the Colonel in question was campaigning for funds with which to rebuild the security forces to prevent this sort of thing happening. There was a similar report recently which said the KGB had hidden several of these in the United States, and an example was brought to show Congress- however, on close examination, it was revealed that the unit in question was an 'American mock-up of a potential Soviet device', or had been built by some Congressional person's staff as a scare tactic. No hard information on these mythical prepo-ed demodevices has ever turned up.

This does not mean to imply that there aren't missing nuclear devices. However, most of the reports along these lines have been a) from persons who stood to gain if they were true and b) unaccompanied by hard evidence (like, say, inventory reports from onsite).

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