The Apollo Affair

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The Apollo Affair was a 1965 incident in which a US company, Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation (NUMEC), in the Pittsburgh suburbs of Apollo and Parks Township, Pennsylvania was investigated for losing 200–600 pounds (91–272 kg) of highly enriched uranium, with suspicions that it had gone to Israel's nuclear weapons program.


From 1965 to 1980, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigated Zalman Shapiro, the company's president, over the loss of 206 pounds (93 kg) of highly enriched uranium. Shapiro was a long-time Zionist,[1][2][3] and he had business interests and contacts among high government officials in Israel, including a contract to build nuclear-powered generators for Israel.[4] The Atomic Energy Commission, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), other government agencies, and inquiring reporters conducted similar investigations, and no charges were ever filed. A General Accounting Office study of the investigations declassified in May 2010 stated "We believe a timely, concerted effort on the part of these three agencies would have greatly aided and possibly solved the NUMEC diversion questions, if they desired to do so."[5]

In February 1976 the CIA briefed senior staff at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) about the matter, stating that the CIA believed the missing highly enriched uranium went to Israel. The NRC informed the White House, leading to President-elect Carter being briefed about the investigation. Carter asked for an assessment by his National Security Advisor, whose staff concluded "The CIA case is persuasive, though not conclusive."[6][7]

Some remain convinced that Israel received 206 pounds (93 kg) or more of highly enriched uranium from NUMEC,[8][9] particularly given the visit of Rafi Eitan, later revealed as an Israeli spy and who was later involved in the Jonathan Pollard incident.[10] In June 1986, analyst Anthony Cordesman told United Press International:

There is no conceivable reason for Eitan to have gone [to the Apollo plant] but for the nuclear material.”[10]

In his 1991 book, The Samson Option, Seymour Hersh concluded that Shapiro did not divert any uranium; rather "it ended up in the air and water of the city of Apollo as well as in the ducts, tubes, and floors of the NUMEC plant."[11] He also wrote that Shapiro's meetings with senior Israeli officials in his home were related to protecting the water supply in Israel rather than any diversion of nuclear material or information.[11]

A later investigation was conducted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (successor to the AEC) regarding an additional 198 pounds (90 kg) of uranium that was found to be missing between 1974 and 1976, after the plant had been purchased by Babcock & Wilcox and Shapiro was no longer associated with the company. That investigation found that more than 110 pounds (50 kg) of it could be accounted for by what was called "previously unidentified and undocumented loss mechanisms", including "contamination of workers' clothes, losses from scrubber systems, material embedded in the flooring, and residual deposits in the processing equipment."[11] Hersh further quoted one of the main investigators, Carl Duckett, as saying "I know of nothing at all to indicate that Shapiro was guilty."[11]

In 1993, Glenn T. Seaborg, former head of the Atomic Energy Commission wrote a book, The Atomic Energy Commission under Nixon, Adjusting to Troubled Times which devoted a chapter to Shapiro and NUMEC, the last sentence of which states:

Distinguished as Shapiro's career has been, one cannot but wonder whether it might not have been even more illustrious had these unjust charges not been leveled against him.[12]

Later U.S. Department of Energy records show that NUMEC had the largest highly enriched uranium inventory loss of all U.S. commercial sites, with a 269 kilograms (593 lb) inventory loss before 1968, and 76 kilograms (168 lb) thereafter.[13]

At the prompting of Zalman Shapiro's lawyer, senator Arlen Specter asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to clear him of any suspicion of diversion in August 2009. The NRC refused, stating:

NRC found no documents that provided specific evidence that the diversion of nuclear materials occurred. However, consistent with previous Commission statements, NRC does not have information that would allow it to unequivocally conclude that nuclear material was not diverted from the site, nor that all previously unaccounted for material was accounted for during the decommissioning of the site.[14]

In 2014, further documents about the investigation were declassified, though still heavily redacted.[6][7]

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing a cleanup of contaminated land at the site of NUMEC's waste disposal. The project was scheduled to be completed in 2015,[15][16] but the discovery of a substantially larger amount of contamination resulted in a seven year delay. Excavation is now scheduled to begin in 2021, with an estimated project time of 10 years.[17]

In popular culture[edit]

Dominique LaPierre and Larry Collins mentioned this incident as part of a lengthy and detailed backstory to Israel's nuclear arsenal and its aborted nuclear strike against Libya in The Fifth Horseman. The film states that at least half of the uranium, according to the CIA, made it to Israel.[18]

In the movie The Sum of All Fears, after determining that the Baltimore nuclear bomb's plutonium came from Savannah River in 1968, Jack Ryan asked Spinnaker via smartphone where the plutonium went. This is a fictitious reference to the Apollo Affair. In the movie an Israeli A-4 carrying a plutonium bomb is shot down, its bomb later recovered by scrap dealers, and its plutonium sold to neo-Nazis (Palestinian terrorists in the book).

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Stealing the Atom Bomb: How Denial and Deception Armed Israel by Roger Mattson (2016, ISBN 1515083918)
  • The NUMEC Affair: Did Highly Enriched Uranium from the U.S. Aid Israel’s Nuclear Weapons Program? National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 565, Posted - November 2, 2016


  1. ^ Ove, Thorsten (2008-04-27). "New life for decades-old lawsuit blaming nuclear plant for cancers". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. p. A1.
  2. ^ "ZOA brings Catholic schools to Holocaust Museum". Jewish Chronicle. 2001-04-12. p. 1.
  3. ^ "Beth Shalom's 85th Anniversary". Lifestyle. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 2002-10-21. p. D3.
  4. ^ O'Toole, Thomas (1977-11-06). "Lost Uranium Mystery". The Washington Post. p. 1.
  5. ^ "Nuclear Diversion in the U.S.? 13 Years of Contradiction and Confusion" (PDF). Comptroller General of the United States. 2013. Retrieved 2016-10-10.
  6. ^ a b Victor Gilinsky, Roger J. Mattson (17 April 2014). "Did Israel steal bomb-grade uranium from the United States?". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Retrieved 23 April 2014.
  7. ^ a b "Secrets about suspected Israeli theft of U.S. weapons-grade nuclear material declassified". Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy. 27 March 2014. Retrieved 23 April 2014.
  8. ^ Victor Gilinsky (former Commissioner U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission) (May 13, 2004). "Israel's Bomb". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 2007-12-08.
  9. ^ David Burnham (January 27, 1978). "C.I.A. said in 1974 Israel had A-bombs". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-12-08.
  10. ^ a b "Israeli Spy Visited A-Plant Where Uranium Vanished". United Press International. Los Angeles Times. June 16, 1986. Retrieved July 5, 2010.
  11. ^ a b c d Hersh, Seymour (1991). The Samson Option: Israel's Nuclear Arsenal and America's Foreign Policy. Random House. pp. 243, 250, 252, 255. ISBN 0-394-57006-5.
  12. ^ Glenn T. Seaborg, The Atomic Energy Commission under Nixon:Adjusting to Troubled Times, 1993, St. Martin's Press
  13. ^ Office of the Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs (January 2001), Highly Enriched Uranium: Striking A Balance - A Historical Report On The United States Highly Enriched Uranium Production, Acquisition, And Utilization Activities From 1945 Through September 30, 1996 (Revision 1 (Redacted For Public Release) ed.), U.S. Department of Energy, National Nuclear Security Administration, p. 107, retrieved 2009-06-13
  14. ^ R. W. Borchardt (November 2, 2009), Letter to Senator Specter (PDF), Nuclear Regulatory Commission, retrieved 23 March 2012
  15. ^ Shallow Land Disposal Area, p. 1, archived from the original on 2011-09-27, retrieved 2011-10-23
  16. ^ Scott C. Johnson, What Lies Beneath, Foreign Policy, 2015/03/23
  17. ^ M. A. Thomas (November 14, 2018), Army Corps of Engineers: $500 million Parks Township nuclear waste removal project is a 'go', Trib Live, retrieved 29 November 2020
  18. ^ Page 131, E-book version. Collins, Larry and LaPierre, Dominique. The Fifth Horseman. Beverly Hills, CA: Renaissance Literary and Talent, 2012. Originally New York City: Simon and Schuster, 1980.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°35′10″N 79°34′04″W / 40.58611°N 79.56778°W / 40.58611; -79.56778