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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 03/19/12

Guests: Vanessa Silverton-Peel, Sarah Dickerson, Anthony Wayne, Luis Longoria, Thomas D`Agostino

ED SCHULTZ, "THE ED SHOW" HOST: Good to have you with us tonight. That`s "THE ED SHOW." I`m Ed Schultz. THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now. Good evening, Rachel. I know you`ve got have a super exclusive, beyond exclusive interview coming up. RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: We do. This is a scoop we have been looking forward to breaking for a long time. A special report tonight, Ed. Thanks, man. SCHULTZ: I`m glued. Thank you. MADDOW: Thank you. Thanks to you at home as well for joining us this hour for what is a RACHEL MADDOW SHOW special report. I have taken three days off in the last three months. I got the stomach flu on Super Bowl Sunday. So, I missed the day after that. I spent last Wednesday going to a thing at the State Department and doing some reporting on what`s going on in Afghanistan right now, if and how plans for the war might be in flux. But there was one other day I have taken off. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) EZRA KLEIN, MSNBC POLICY ANALYST: And thank to you for sticking around at home with us tonight. Rachel is on assignment? (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Question mark? Right. Tonight, I get to tell you where I was on that assignment. This is an exclusive report, which means we get to put up the little thing that says exclusive. Do we have that? Somewhere? Thank you. This is an exclusive report. We are breaking news that nobody else has and frankly it is good news. It starts here, President Eisenhower. Every liberal`s favorite Eisenhower moment is the farewell address, right, where he coins the phrase "military industrial complex" and he explains how the defense means and the defense industry threatened to overwhelm the rest of what we want and need as a country. My favorite Eisenhower speech, though, has always been not that last one. His farewell address. But one of his first big ones, the "Atoms for Peace" speech that he gave in his first year in office, President Eisenhower talked about the United States having an arsenal of weapons that could essentially destroy the world. And then, as now we were the only country to have used an atomic weapon in Hiroshima and in Nagasaki. But it was clear by that point in 1953 that it wasn`t just us anymore. The Soviet Union had a number of successful tests. And so, President Eisenhower in the "Atoms for Peace" speech talked about the hopeless finality of a belief that two atomic colossi are doomed malevolently to eye each other indefinitely across a trembling world." He talked about the helpless acceptance of the probability of civilization destroyed, the annihilation of the irreplaceable heritage of mankind handed down to us from generation to generation. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: The condemnation of mankind to begin all over again the age-old struggle upward from savagery, toward decency, and right, and justice it. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: It is not often that presidents talk this deep, right, talk about the United States not wanting to drive the human race back into the Stone Ages, or the desire of our country not to be recorded in history as one of the great destroyers. But that was what Eisenhower said out loud in the "Atoms for Peace" speech. It was amazing and it was awful. It was awful because what Eisenhower announced in that speech was a plan to make nukes, not just a thing that could end the world, but a positive thing, too. We went from being a country that kept nuclear information so secret that as vice president, Harry Truman didn`t even know we had the bomb until FDR died. Truman had to become president before anyone told him we had the bomb. We went from being a country so possessive of our nuclear advantage that we wanted to be the only ones in the world, not only with nuclear weapons, but nuclear power and we were going to buy all the uranium and all the fermium in the world to make that so. Under my beloved President Eisenhower, we went from that possessive, keep-the-genie-in-the-bottle country, to a country that exported nuclear technology all over the world. That`s what "Atoms for Peace" was about -- nuclear technology, even nuclear material. It was supposed to be just for peaceful purposes, just for energy, "atoms for peace." But that supposedly peaceful scientific and industrial nuclear technology that we exported all around the globe is what eventually Israel, and India and Pakistan turned in to full-fledged nuclear weapons programs. And so, what started as us having nuclear weapons and then us in the Soviet Union, and then, us, and the Soviet Union, and the Brits, and the French and Chinese, then became us, the Soviets, the Brit, the French, the Chinese, and India and Israel and Pakistan, and during the Bush administration, we added North Korea too. So, this right now, what you`re looking at here -- this is who in the world has nuclear weapons. Let`s also add an outline around Iran, because even though Iran says they neither have them nor want them, there are international concerns that Iran is not only working on having nuclear weapons but they may be close to that. But if this is the world of nuclear weapons, look at this big picture. Take a step back from this. What do you notice about this? There are whole swaths of the world with no nuclear weapons in them and no real (INAUDIBLE) in the rest of the world that those places might get some either. Why is that? Why are there no nuclear weapons, say, in all of Africa? In all of South America? That`s on purpose. It is not that they didn`t have the option. South Africa under apartheid made nuclear weapons, a bunch of them, but they gave them up voluntarily. The Cuban missile crisis was a worry about Soviet missiles being moved to Cuba. But starting in `67, whole swaths of the populated world decided to declare themselves nuclear weapons-free zones. They wouldn`t have them. They wouldn`t pursue them. They would not let other countries put them there. In 1967, it was Central America and South America and the Caribbean. In `85, it was the whole South Pacific, including Australia. In 1992, it was Mongolia. In 1995, it was Southeast Asia. In 1996, it was all of Africa. In 2006, it was parts of Central Asia, the Stans, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan. All together when you look at those places, that is two-thirds of all of the countries in the world, including virtually the entire southern hemisphere agreeing to be nuclear weapons free, which is awesome. But here`s the problem. Just because you don`t have nuclear weapons doesn`t mean you don`t have nuclear material all over the place. In part, because we shipped it all over the place. Thanks, Ike. We set up nuclear research reactors and nuclear power reactors all over the freaking place. I love you, President Eisenhower, but, man, what a mess. We sent highly enriched uranium and the technology to use it in reactors, which is the same technology you need for nuclear weapons, we sent that all over the globe. And on a globe, where a nuclear explosion is the highest aspiration of the lowest human life forms, where there is a black market in nuclear material where highly enriched uranium could make a nuclear bomb, or a dirt bomb or terrorist black mail the likes of which the world has never seen, but that the world has nightmares about all the time. It is a big freaking problem there is loose nuclear material all over the world. There aren`t nuclear weapons all over the globe. But the means to make them are there and steal-able in all sorts of places you do not want them to be. Quote, "To get the materials need to build a bomb, terrorists will not necessarily go where there is the most material. They will go where the material is most vulnerable. That makes global nuclear security only as strong as the weakest link in the chain," so says the Nuclear Threat Initiative. It is this person`s job, that person standing with me in the ridiculous suit, this person`s job to go get nuclear material all over the earth and lock it down. You pay that person`s salary. Would you like to meet her? You are about to. The National Nuclear Security Administration locks down loose nuclear material around the globe on behalf of the United States of America. We have taken on that responsibility partly because we have an interest in there not being nuclear terrorism in the world. But part of us taking on this responsibility here is because a lot of the loose nuclear material that is out in the world initially came from us. It came from the United States in the first place. And so, today`s big news, remember that Ike gave that "Atoms for Peace" speech in 1953? Three years after that, in 1956, the nation of Mexico started getting their atoms for peace. They formed a nuclear energy commission that year. That nuclear energy commission eventually became ININ, that is Spanish language for Mexico`s national institute of nuclear research, and that is where I went on assignment last month when Ezra filled in for me that night, because ININ is where Mexico keeps its highly enriched uranium, its weapons usable material. Mexico has taken good care of it, but highly enriched uranium is terrorist Holy Grail. It is the black market smuggling prize to end all black market smuggling prizes. And if someone did steal highly enriched uranium in Mexico, well, gee, it`s not like there are any viable smuggling routes between Mexico and the United States, are there? As of today I can report in the entire nation of Mexico, there is no longer any highly enriched uranium because our government, working with Mexico and actually Canada too we just removed it. It is like a spy movie how we did it. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MADDOW: OK. We`re in Mexico City now. We are going to Toluca. We think we are in rush hour traffic. So, it might be an hour and a quarter, might be a day. SARAH DICKERSON, NNSA THREAT REDUCTION DIRECTOR: Hopefully not a day. Probably around an hour and a half I would guess. MADDOW: Plenty for me to plum the depths of what we are doing here with you. Are you still the director of the Former Soviet Union and Asian Threat Reduction at NSA. DICKERSON: Yes, I am. MADDOW: Why are we in Mexico? DICKERSON: That`s a good question. It has to do with the way that our office is organized. Although I`m the director FSU and Asian Threat Reduction, I`m also the coordinator for all of our removal activities regardless of location. So, whether it`s Russia, Ukraine, Chile, Mexico, it doesn`t matter. My office is in charge. MADDOW: So, everywhere the NNSA is collecting nuclear material, locking it down, repatriating it, whatever is that individual circumstance, you are in charge of the logistics, running the (INAUDIBLE). DICKERSON: That is correct. MADDOW: Can you tell people what you do? Like when you leave to do something like this, where does your family think you are going? DICKERSON: My family in general knows the location of where I am going. It is not classified where I`m going, just the operation and the dates and exactly what the details are of the operation. MADDOW: What should people understand about the difference between what we think of as nuclear power reactors and research reactors? DICKERSON: The biggest difference is the material itself. The material that is used to power a nuclear power plant is only enriched to three to four percent of U-235. So, it`s really not material that a terrorist could use to make a nuclear weapon. MADDOW: Highly enriched uranium is considered 20 percent? DICKERSON: Yes, 20 percent or greater. MADDOW: OK. DICKERSON: So, the nuclear -- the research reactors that we`re working at, they have much higher enrichments of materials. So, for example, the reactor we are going to today, the material is 70 percent enriched. But some of the reactors have even higher enrichment than that. MADDOW: So, research reactors tend to be smaller in scale but they have scarier stuff? DICKERSON: Exactly. The material is also much smaller. So, it`s much easier to transport. So, a usual reactor fuel rod is something you could pick up and walk off on your own. MADDOW: It`s not so radioactive that you are going to -- DICKERSON: Not if it is put in a reactor. It`s been put into an operating research reactor and therefore is irradiated that you would not pick up and walk off with it unless you are crazy because you`ll die. MADDOW: Something that comes out of a nuclear reactor, something that has been used, something that is spent fuel, if that is so radioactive that grabbing hold of it kills you, it sort of self protects, right? That makes it less steal-able. But staff that is going into a reactor, fresh fuel that hasn`t been put through that process, that`s something that is much more portable and therefore much more smuggle-able. DICKERSON: Much higher, much more attractive target. MADDOW: So, why would Mexico be happy to get rid of their highly enriched uranium? I mean, obviously, it`s a risk to them that it falls in the wrong hands as much as any other country that might be worried that it would be smuggled out of Mexico. But, presumably, they had a reactor producing enriched uranium for a reason. Why would they be willing to see that reactor converted? DICKERSON: Well, a lot of it is because there`s been this push an international effort for all research reactor to convert from LEU, to low enriched uranium. And spent fuel is a liability. There is nothing they can use it for. It`s just material that`s sitting in a pond with no disposition pathway but they still have to secure. So, by getting rid of the material, it reduces the overall threat level at the site and they can reduce their cost to secure the material, as well. MADDOW: Yes, I can -- the part of it that seems clear to me is that you don`t want to have this very expensive, useless thing -- dangerous useless thing on your hands. And so, that`s a reason that you should be willing to convert your reactor so it doesn`t produce highly enrichment uranium anymore. DICKERSON: We`re also working through the IAEA, to provide them with some additional upgrades to the reactor. So, actually, it might have higher performance than it does now. MADDOW: The United States is doing that or the International Atomic Energy Agency? DICKERSON: The United States is doing through the International Atomic Energy Agency. MADDOW: So we`re paying for it? DICKERSON: We are paying for it. MADDOW: The Mexico nuclear program -- obviously, Mexico is not a nuclear weapons state, but having a research reactor, and having their power in Mexico started in the `50s, started in the mid-`50s. When the United States under Eisenhower was actively promoting the spread of nuclear know-how and technology and not for proliferation, not for weapons but for civilian uses, like right in the sweet spot for what we were doing, we`re trying to spread that around the world. Is this the other side of that? We`re trying to re-let that -- we sort of let that genie out of the bottle. I mean, places like India, Pakistan and Israel took advantage of that and ended becoming nuclear weapons states after we help spread that know-how around the world. Obviously, that wasn`t the intention, but that`s one things that happened and now, we`re worried about nuclear terrorism, so we are sort of trying to re-contain it, trying to put it back in the box? DICKERSON: That`s exactly what we`re doing. We are trying to go out there and find all the materials that we gave out under the Atoms for Peace Initiative and try to get it back where it can be adequately disposition. MADDOW: Fifty years later. DICKERSON: Fifty years later. MADDOW: Do you curse Eisenhower`s name? DICKERSON: I would never do that. I love my job. MADDOW: I mean, I got to say I`ve always been sort of an Ike fan. DICKERSON: Yes. MADDOW: This infuriates me. DICKERSON: Yes, in hindsight, it was probably not our best decision. MADDOW: Yes. I mean, it was a beautiful idea -- oh, we have these horrible weapons that can destroy the world. Let`s use that terrible destructive power and it will be just as positive if we use it for something other than weapon. DICKERSON: Perhaps overly trusting. MADDOW: I mean, one of the things that even the United States has had difficulty with, and countries around the world, every country in the world has had to consider this is sort of the corruptibility of people working at every level of the nuclear structure, right? Like if you`ve got, it`s great if you`ve got, you know, great gates and guys standing at them. But if the guy with the gun is being bribed, susceptible to bribery, I mean, the overall level of corruption and susceptibility of people at every level, I mean, presumably, that`s affected by the general sense of lawlessness and the strengths of the institutions in the country. DICKERSON: We just take that into consideration when we were installing security upgrades, because the upgrades always include a two- person rule to get anywhere near the nuclear material. So, one single person will never have the key and pass code to the get in to a vault with nuclear material. It requires two. So, we try to -- MADDOW: Is that true in the U.S., too? DICKERSON: Yes. And so, we do try to instill rules that will prevent one, single person from being able to get to the material. But be that as it may, no security system is perfect. All you do is reduce risk, you can`t eliminate it, which is why it`s important to get rid of the material in the long run, not just protect it in place. (END VIDEOTAPE) MADDOW: Protect it in place in this case means protecting it in Mexico, which is not exactly war-torn Somalia or something, but Mexico right now does have its share of hurly-burly. Particularly, the organized crime violence of the drug cartels all, of course, tied to the enormously profitable industry of smuggling into the United States of America. I asked the United States ambassador to Mexico if that is part of the reason to breathe easier about Mexico cleaning out all of its nuclear material. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: A lot of Americans think about the political situation in Mexico right now. They worry about the drug cartels. They worry about organized crime. People who are experts on these subjects don`t seem to be worried that cartels are trying to get their hands on this stuff. But what were the risks for it, if any, and what are the benefits to the United States of this stuff being gone? ANTHONY WAYNE, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO MEXICO: Well, I think this is part of a worldwide program. That`s what we are talking about. It wasn`t a worry that the stuff in Mexico, the HEU, was going to fall in to bad hands. It was more part of a global commitment to just take this dangerous stuff and try to lower the levels all over the world. And the Mexicans are participating in that process. MADDOW: So, is there a connection, in your mind, or in the United States calculations of the interest here between this nuclear material and its security and all of the other things that are able to be smuggled over the U.S.-Mexico border -- whether it is illegal migration, drugs, whether it is other things that are able to cross the border that aren`t supposed to be able to. Is there any connection between those issues? Is that any part of the worry? WAYNE: Well, what I can say is the commitment and moving ahead with it is because of a global problem. Separately from that, of course, we are very working closely with the Mexicans on ways to improve security to help them build stronger law enforcements and judicial institutions, to build a 21st century border that is both more secure and allows more people and commerce to go across it at the same time. But this program was not tied in to that. This program was part of this global effort at the last nuclear security summit to take and get commitments to reduce the levels of HEU around the world. (END VIDEOTAPE) MADDOW: Estimates vary depending on who you are asking but roughly you can say it takes maybe 25 kilograms of highly enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon. They are not that hard to make. Since the president`s nuclear summit in 2010 where 47 countries agreed we would try as a globe to lock up all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years, since then, more than 1,000 kilograms of nuclear material has been locked down. That`s enough for hundreds of bombs. But none of that material as of that material is in Mexico anymore. We got more ahead. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Today`s shipment means that when this is completed, at this reactor that we are going to today, there will be no more highly enriched uranium in Mexico at all? DICKERSON: We are removing all of the fresh material as part of this operation. The spent material will be departing one week later by boat and then Mexico will be completely cleaned out of highly enriched uranium. MADDOW: Wow. So, by the time this is on TV. DICKERSON: By the time this is on TV, everything will be out of Mexico. (END VIDEO CLIP) (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Our exclusive report on the elimination of weapons usable nuclear material south of the U.S. border. That news breaking here tonight continues next. Next is the part with the amazing topiary. You think I`m kidding. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Word of the day, Tlatelolco. Put that up on the screen, come on. Best treaty named in all of politics. You pronounce every letter, Tlatelolco. That`s the treaty that says no nuclear weapons south of the United States and all of Latin America and the Caribbean. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MADDOW: Back in the `60s after the Cuban missile crisis when the Latin American countries decided they were going to be a nuclear weapons free zone, which is a huge part of the earth, they had options. Think didn`t have to do that. Mexico is the country that led it, right? I mean, Mexico is the depository country for the treaty. Mexico decided to be -- essentially to champion that. Even against initial resistance but that`s why there is this huge swath of the earth that doesn`t have nuclear weapons at all. And nicely the nuclear weapon states have agreed not to bomb. DICKERSON: That is nice. MADDOW: Nice part of the treaty. DICKERSON: The nice thing about with this being completed pretty much every single country below the United States will have only very small amounts of highly enriched uranium left. MADDOW: Yes. DICKERSON: Because Chile has been cleaned out. Brazil only has a few grams. Argentina has some we are downgrading because we couldn`t bring it to the United States. So, in some total, once Mexico is cleaned out below the United States, you might have 1 1/2 kilograms of HEU left. MADDOW: Total? DICKERSON: Total. (END VIDEOTAPE) MADDOW: You tax dollars at work. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MADDOW: So, we are just pulling in to the Mexico`s national nuclear research institute , which is where all the research reactor is, where all the HEU is going to be packed up and shipped out. They are converting this reactor from highly enriched uranium to low-enriched uranium so that all of the HEU here, both the fuel that would go to the reactor and the really irradiated stuff that has already been in the reactor, been irradiated there and it`s very hot and you don`t want to be near, all of that stuff is leaving on this trip today, what they are doing today and what they`re doing next week. There`s a lot of men with guns. There`s also a lot of topiary. That for example appears to be a duck. DICKERSON: It`s a duck or small bird of some sort. MADDOW: I would say a water fowl. DICKERSON: They take their topiaries very seriously. MADDOW: They do take their topiaries very seriously. I wonder what they run their hedge trimmers on. (LAUGHTER) DICKERSON: Hopefully LEU. MADDOW: Yes, exactly. Those are being down blended as well. (END VIDEOTAPE) MADDOW: It`s kind of weird. I mean, among the jobs of people that work at the facility are keeping safe from terrorists, Mexico`s entire national stock of the highly enriched uranium, also making sure the hedges are trimmed in the shapes of ducks and snakes and the name of the facility and making sure they don`t get overgrown. That`s a turtle. You got to keep the topiary tiptop. That`s a duck. The world is complex but coordinated place. That`s some sort of bird. But on this operation to get rid all of Mexico`s weapons usable nuclear material, the movement of all the uranium is just as complex and interrelated. This reactor has been run on highly enriched uranium, so it takes highly enriched uranium fuel which is portable and steal-able and desirable on the nuclear terrorist black market and that fuel goes into the reactor. In the reactor, it becomes hugely radioactive and therefore more dangerous. It gets irradiated. And by getting so dangerous, though, it becomes less portable. It becomes steal-able. It will kill you if you are around it. The agreement reached at President Obama`s nuclear security summit in 2010 was that Mexico would change this reactor. So instead, it will now use just low-enriched uranium and that has much less potential for being used in a weapons context. So, there`s three things that are in motion here on this trip -- the United States brought Mexico low enriched uranium, to use as a fuel in their newly converted reactor. We brought that into the country. The U.S. took away on this enormous Air Force C-17 that you see in the middle here, the fresh highly enriched uranium that Mexico had that hasn`t been through its reactor yet. Very highly steal-able, not that dangerous. But the U.S. took away Mexico`s highly enriched uranium that had been through the reactor already. This is the really radioactive super dangerous to handle stuff and that went by ship. That kind of thing cannot travel by plane. Watch this. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MADDOW: So why is the fresh fuel, which is the last pot, not irradiated fuel, why is that leaving by plane and the spent fuel, the more hot stuff leaving by ship? DICKERSON: Well, for two with reasons. The fresh material, because it is a more attractive target, we would like to get it out of the country as quickly soon as possible, hence the plane. MADDOW: It`s more attractive because it is the thing that you could more easily weaponize. DICKERSON: Right. You can easily pick it up on your own because it`s not radioactive and it`s also easier to turn in to a nuclear weapon. The spent fuel, there`s actually not a certified package that allows the transport of spent fuel by plane. MADDOW: Certified package. DICKERSON: We do not have a package that`s gone through the necessary testing to the give everybody enough confidence that you can put the material on a plane and if there were an incident, that the package would not be breached. So, hence, the reason from boats. MADDOW: Oh, a plane crash. I got you. So it can`t -- DICKERSON: That would be an incident. MADDOW: I got you. So, it can`t go with something -- DICKERSON: It can`t go by plane. MADDOW: OK. All right. There isn`t anything in it that is strong and safe enough to guarantee that it will not crack open in a plane crash. DICKERSON: Nothing that`s been certified such now. MADDOW: Anywhere in the world, or not just certified in the United States? DICKERSON: Just in the United States. We recently finished the certification for a cast that can be used to fly spent fuel to Russia. So, we`re getting ready to our first shipment of that in the next year. MADDOW: So, there is a cask that`s certified for Russia but it`s not certified for us. DICKERSON: Right. MADDOW: How did you certify it? DICKERSON: Well, it`s a very long process. It takes probably a year and a half, two years to do a certification. But as part of it, because now you`re talking about taking this cask and putting it on a plane, they needed to do a scenario whereby they could figure out the impact if the plane actually crashed with the cask on the plane. MADDOW: Right. DICKERSON: So, we didn`t want to rent a plane and put the cask on it and crash it. That didn`t make sense. MADDOW: If you got a dummy flying it. DICKERSON: Yes, it wouldn`t be smart. So the Russians came up with a design where they built a rocket pad. So, they put a rocket on the back of the cast and then sent it off by rocket until it crashed and then they were able to look at the impact of the crash of the cask and determine there was no breach and so, therefore the cask could possibly. MADDOW: They literally strapped a rocket to the thing? DICKERSON: That`s my understanding. I was not witness to it. MADDOW: So -- DICKERSON: Sounds right. MADDOW: You know, it`s an art and a science. DICKERSON: It is. But it makes sense. MADDOW: Also a sitcom sometimes. (END VIDEOTAPE) MADDOW: Dr. Luis Longoria is the research director for Mexico`s research reactor. He`s also becoming the new head of Latin American affairs for the U.N.`s nuclear agency. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MADDOW: What is in there? LUIS LONGORIA, ININ RESEARCH DIRECTOR: (INAUDIBLE) you can remotely handle some of the -- MADDOW: Oh, wow. LONGORIA: Because they are highly radioactive you can manipulate and then if you want to move the samples and take them and so on, all remotely. And then we produce the samples so it can be tested by the facility like this one. MADDOW: Can I do that? LONGORIA: Yes, sure. MADDOW: Can I move that? LONGORIA: Like this. MADDOW: Oh, yes. OK. Now I know what I want to be in my next life. LONGORIA: This is like space technology. MADDOW: I feel like I`m part robot. LONGORIA: Yes. MADDOW: That`s very cool. I can turn it like that. It has full range of motion and then a clamp like that. I would grab something in this but I`m not going to. LONGORIA: These two steel doors also should we have any accident reactive material is released, instead of going out of the building it is always inside. This is always -- MADDOW: This is part of containment? LONGORIA: It is part of containment. This is the control room. This is the reactor console. This reactor is a reactor with a pool with about eight meters of water. MADDOW: Just plain water. LONGORIA: It is plain water. MADDOW: OK. LONGORIA: It`s just the water is for two purposes. First, to cool the reactor. Secondly, to stop radiation and be able to work along the reactor. MADDOW: So the water is a barrier. LONGORIA: Exactly. Radiation interacts with the atoms of the water and stop the radiation. It is like the shielding of all the volume of water. MADDOW: The reactor is at the bottom? LONGORIA: The reactor is right at the bottom of it. You can see down inside there are holes where the fuel elements go. You can see the other side of the reactor. You can see those holes. When a reactor is working, the only thing that you see is bluish light. That is produced when radiation goes through water and then you get very intensive blue lights. MADDOW: Can you look at it or is it dangerous? LONGORIA: No. You can look at it. By the time it comes out here it is -- right at the core you can see it. But here you don`t get any radiation. MADDOW: Even in nuclear research reactors, you need a shop vac. Every work site, all around the world, there`s a shop vac. I don`t care if it is a nuclear reactor. You still need one. LONGORIA: Once it is transported, it will be done immediately. MADDOW: Very fast. LONGORIA: Put in there. And be sent and shipped immediately. So there is no risk of anybody getting hands on this thing. MADDOW: Right. LONGORIA: At the moment, just empty containers. MADDOW: You know, is all of the fresh, all of it is going to fit in those? LONGORIA: All in that. MADDOW: Are these sealed by the IAEA? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. MADDOW: Can I see what the seal looks like? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Let`s go. MADDOW: I was talking to the IAEA director general, after I finished interviewing him (INAUDIBLE) he said make sure you see the seals. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have the seal and the seal twice. MADDOW: I see. OK. DICKERSON: So when it gets back to the United States, we take the IAEA seals off and mail those back to the IAEA, and that ensures nothing has been tampered with in the transportation route. MADDOW: And Y12 is an American facility. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. MADDOW: I think I thought the seals were going to be locks. I thought they were going to be big intense physical barrier. DICKERSON: The seals themselves are intended to show that no one has tampered with the packages since they were packaged. MADDOW: Because if you open this up, this would have to come off. DICKERSOIN: Exactly. And that`s when you know this is a problem but it is not necessarily ended to prevent access. That`s what the bolts are from. MADDOW: OK. And this one, which is the empty one, no IAEA seals. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. MADDOW: These are going to be the same exact puppies that are going to be on the plane with us tomorrow? DICKERSON: Yes. These are the same casks that will be on the plane tomorrow. MADDOW: Puppies is the word. DICKERSON: Puppies would be cuter. MADDOW: Right. Yes, less radioactive. You know how when you have a package for what you are going to send, like, you know, Postal Service or UPS or whatever, this is from ININ, the nuclear research facility we are at right now in Mexico, to Oakridge, Tennessee, just in case it gets lost along the way, it has a return address. I wouldn`t want to handle the postage but it is there. ANDREW BIENIAWSKI, NNSA OFFICE OF GLOBAL THREAT REDUCTION: What we had to do for this operation, given the complexity of the LEU transfer and HEU removal, we had to bring a specialized forklift on this military C-17 plane. So, this forklift played a key role because we had to unload 40 assemblies of low enriched uranium and then first unload that, and then load all the weapons grade highly enriched uranium on to the military aircraft. We could not have done that using just the equipment in Mexico and in order to make sure that we did it efficiently, we had to bring our own forklift here as part of this classified operation. VANESSA SILVERTON-PEEL, TRMS PRODUCER: What now happens to the fresh highly enriched uranium, which is on board this C-17 with us right now? When we land, where does it go? And how long does it take to get where it needs to be? CHUCK MESSICK, NNSA NUCLEAR ENGINEER: When we land, we`ll transfer it to a truck, and move it to the Y12 National Nuclear Security Complex. SILVERTON-PEEL: At what point do you sort of breathe a sigh of relief? What is the thing that happens where you finally feel like, OK, now, I can take a nap? MESSICK: In the last bit of material, all the HEU, in this case is delivered both to Idaho and to Y12. SILVERTON-PEEL: In December 2009, Libya was giving up the very last of its material, right, and that was about five kilograms of spent highly enriched uranium, which is what is being transported from the Mexico site, as well. When the revolution happened in Libya, Gadhafi eventually fell and was killed -- did you breathe the biggest sigh of relief ever in the entire government? Did you just feel like I can`t believe there`s no more nuclear material there anymore and I am so happy I could cry? ANNE HARRINGTON, DEFENSE NUCLEAR NONPROLIF. DEP. ADMIN.: Many of us felt that way. When we were watching the events unfold in Libya, it was just, you know, stunning to us what the risk might have been had we not been able to finish removing the material. I had -- I have had similar feelings about Iraq. I worked in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 setting up some of our nonproliferation programs there from the State Department and one of the early things that the Department of Energy did, at that point with the U.S. military, was to secure radiological sources. Imagine what IEDs in Iraq might have been if the sources haven`t been secured, and there were thousands of them. SILVERTON-PEEL: What kind of radioactive material was it? HARRINGTON: It was a lot of different sources that were used from everything from lightning rods to medical treatments. You put two or three of these in each IED and you would have a dirty bomb every time an IED went off. (END VIDEOTAPE) MADDOW: Today is the ninth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. The war, of course, started because President Bush said that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, which wasn`t true and an active program to make nuclear weapons, which also wasn`t true. But that doesn`t mean there wasn`t nuclear material in Iraq. A lot of countries all over the globe have nuclear material. And once we invaded Iraq under false pretensions, while we were looking for those supposed weapons that didn`t really exist there, the U.S. Energy Department did, by the way, lock down all of the loose nuclear material in Iraq. And then we went on having a war there for another eight years. Thank God they did it. In the context of a war that even Bush administration officials are calling, quote, a mistake, the biggest strategic error since Vietnam, locking down loose nuclear material in Iran is something we are glad to have done. When candidates talk about getting rid of the Department of Energy because it doesn`t do anything useful, what they are asking you to judge is whether you think locking up loose nukes around the world is a useful thing, because that`s what the Department of Energy does. They National Nuclear Security Administration today that it has completely removed all weapons usable nuclear material from the country of Mexico, which is right next door. More ahead. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MADDOW: We`re not afraid to be naked in our nuclear reactors in Mexico. Can you decipher this one? DICKERSON: It is unfortunately in Spanish. If it were in English, I`m sure I`d know exactly what it all says. MADDOW: This is actually heartening. So if you are a kid in science class, at some point your educational career in the United States and you`re thinking when is this stuff ever going to be used in real life? Even if I`m a scientist, we`ll be doing everything on computers. We`ll never be using these stupid chalk boards. Why do I have to write it out on chalk boards? Hey, guess what, in the middle of the nuclear research facility, chalk board and the scientist who is bad has to clean the erasers. DICKERSON: Exactly. I see a few symbols I recognize from math class. MADDOW: I recognize a few symbols from sororities. (END VIDEOTAPE) (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: We`ve got exclusive footage here of the arrival in the United States of the last highly enriched uranium in Mexico. As you can see, it`s arriving at night. The flight that you saw earlier, the C-17, that took the uranium fuel rods that had not been in Mexico`s research reactor that were therefore safe to handle. But the really super radioactive stuff that can kill you, the stuff that had been in the reactor, we do not allow that on planes. That goes in multi-ton steel casks that are hoisted by a giant crane, that uranium got trucked over land to the coast, to the port of Vera Cruz, and then hoisted on to a ship and sailed north to the U.S. where it`s now been safely down- blended. The reason these missions do get disclosed publicly until they are over and the material has been rendered safe, is that if anybody is going to go after nuclear material to steal it, and that`s what you`re worried about there, the people who want to steal it may try that when the material is in motion, while it is being moved. But as of today, we can report the nation of Mexico has been cleaned out of weapons using nuclear material. Joining us now for the interview is the head of the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration who was on that C-17, flying the last fresh Mexican highly enriched uranium to the United States, he`s the man responsible for this function of the United States government, Tom D`Agostino, the head of the National Nuclear Security Administration. It`s nice to see you. THOMAS D`AGOSTINO, NATIONAL NUCLEAR SECURITY ADMINISTRATOR: It`s great to be back. MADDOW: First, I have explained a lot about this in the last little bit of the show. Tell me what I got wrong, I`m sure I messed something up. D`AGOSTINO: I think you got it exactly right. I mean, these are complicated missions. It requires 10 agencies between two countries, the International Atomic Energy Agency was involved, multiple agencies within both governments. So, you can imagine the coordination of pulling all of this together. And that`s why it takes -- it`s not something you just say, well, we`re going to do this next month, let`s go make it happen. It takes years of planning. And the security summit from two years ago was the catalyst that really got us going. MADDOW: You were working on -- National Nuclear Security Administration was working on clearing weapons usable materials out of countries, even before that summit. But has the pace picked up since the president`s started focusing on it? D`AGOSTINO: Absolutely. Tremendously. Let`s put it in terms of numbers, give us a sense. We started in the mid-`90s on this work. Maybe 13 years ago before the summit. During that time, we got a lot done. We worked in 13 countries, cleared out highly enriched uranium in 13 countries. Took care of 2,500 kilograms of material. That`s 13 years. In the last two years alone, we`ve taken care of 1,000 kilograms and we`ve cleaned out material in seven countries. And in the text two years, we`ll do another seven countries, another 1,000 kilograms. MADDOW: Wow. D`AGOSTINO: So, it`s like a fourfold increase in pace. That`s what vision gets you. That`s what leadership gets you. That`s what determination and focus gets you. And that`s what we`ve got with these nuclear security summits, with the president`s declaration on four years in locking down material. I think it`s just wonderful -- and we don`t do it by ourselves. We do it with our international partners. MADDOW: In terms of the -- so the nuclear security summit that you were just discussing was from April of 2010. President Obama gave the Prague speech in April 2009. Then, we had a year later, that big 49-nation summit. D`AGOSTINO: Right. MADDOW: The next one, the two-year follow-up is next week. D`AGOSTINO: Next week. MADDOW: Even more countries will be involved there. Will it be just checking on pacing to see if we`re on track to lock up all vulnerable material or will it be expanded? D`AGOSTINO: Well, it`s about reviewing progress, absolutely, because we have to review progress. It`s important to get a progress report. And it`s about a recommitment. We want to have a recommitment of all of our countries together bringing in a few more international organizations. The IAEA will be actively involved in working on this because they are a key part of this. And so, it will be left to determine to the leaders of these countries to determine, do we want to add more commitments, if you will, on top of this? But we have our work cut out for us. We`ve got a big job to do in the next year and a half. We`re not going to say it`s over until it`s over. And, in fact, even after a year and a half, we have to make sure the security upgrades stay in place. MADDOW: The director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, was at ININ when I was there, and I asked him about whether or not the disaster at Fukushima has changed the way that countries around the world think about, not just safety of nuclear power, but nuclear security. I mean, you think about those spent fuel rods in those reactors in Fukushima and the disaster there. And that`s all I could think about when I was looking at the spent fuel rods in this research reaction, which are being so well-taken care and down-blended and all of the rest of it. But how`s that changed either the urgency or who cares about it, or the list of priorities in this field? D`AGOSTINO: I think what it does is it goes to show that this is something that we need to manage. We need to do it in a deliberate way. And we need to do it together. And, therefore -- I mean, I like attention on this topic. I think the right kind of attention on nuclear security is absolutely the thing that we want. This is what we get with these security summits. We get this kind of attention at the highest levels of government. And that`s what brings government organizations within the United States government together. We know the president wants this. We`re working together to go make it happen. MADDOW: Tom D`Agostino, undersecretary for nuclear security, the administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration -- thank you for helping me and my team get close enough to cover this story. And thanks for your time. D`AGOSTINO: Absolutely. Thanks so much. Likewise. MADDOW: I like that we pay his salary. OK. Right after this show, the latest on the Trayvon Martin story which has riveted the country. Also, John McCain says Republicans have a women voters` problem. Who knew? Lawrence has all of that coming up on "THE LAST WORD." And we are right back after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: We have been reporting breaking news tonight that Mexico has officially divested itself of weapons usable nuclear material, a secret operation spearing a way to the United States for disposal and down- blending, that country`s stockpile of highly enriched uranium. There`s more posted at, including an interview with the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the strange story of how we keep accidentally finding stuff that`s made out of scrap material that nobody knew was radioactive, and that isn`t supposed to be. Tomorrow, we will have full coverage of the Illinois Republican presidential primary. Polls close in Illinois at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. We will be covering it all night, as long as it goes. "THE LAST WORD" with Lawrence O`Donnell starts right now. Thanks for being with us for this special report tonight. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END