Skip to:

Lab-to-Lab Cooperation


Siegfried Hecker in February 1992 greeting Yuli Khariton, the Soviet physicist who was the chief designer of Russia's atomic bomb. They were meeting in the once-secret Russian nuclear city of Sarov, launching a 20-year collaboration between American and Russian nuclear scientists.
Photo credit: 


Principal Investigator
Senior Fellow
  • Professor, Management Science and Engineering

Senior Fellow Siegfried Hecker was the director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory when the Soviet Union was collapsing in 1991. The Russians were bankrupt; the KGB was in disarray; and tens of thousands of nuclear weapons and more than 1,000 tons of fissile materials across the broken Soviet states were poorly protected.

Hecker and others in the U.S. government were concerned that the thousands of Soviet scientists who were suddenly in limbo would turn to Iran or Iraq to sell their nuclear knowledge. He persuaded the Department of Energy to let him go directly to his Russian counterparts in their nuclear labs to help them secure their nuclear goods.

In February 1992, Hecker was on the tarmac in the once-secret Russian nuclear city of Sarov, shaking hands with Yuli Khariton, the Soviet physicist who had been the chief designer of Russia’s atomic bomb.

A collaboration was born; one that continues today. Hecker has made more than 44 trips to Russia and the former Soviet states in the last two decades in the name of nuclear nonproliferation and cooperation.

The cooperation led the development of the Department of Energy’s Materials Protection, Control and Accounting program in 1994. Enormous progress to enhance the physical security of nuclear sites has been made in Russia and some of the former Soviet states over the years, but much work remains to be done – and new challenges await in states such as China, Iran, India and Pakistan.

Hecker continues his work with the Russians and former Soviet states. He is writing a book to document the genesis and accomplishments of this little-known collaboration, which flourished in the 1990s but has declined in the last 10 years. The project will also seek to complement ongoing official government efforts to rejuvenate lab-to-lab cooperation.

A website devoted to the June 2013 Conference on Russia-U.S. Nuclear Cooperation contains dozens of official presentations by experts from both countries.

Siegfried Hecke (left) and Kazakh colleagues toast during an October 2012 ceremony to quietly commemorate their long collaboration to clean up the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site.
Photo Credit: CISAC