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Political Devotions - Conservative Alerts, News and Commentary
Monday, August 30, 2004
The Blood-Chilling Facts
Topic: Nuclear Terrorism
[Important Notice: The Political Devotions Weblog has moved to]

(What are "political devotions"? Click here.)

I have a lot of admiration for the work of Graham Allison, author of the new book Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe, so I was pained to learn he has become an advisor to John Kerry, whose record betrays a consistent aversion to the use of force to protect the US.

Nevertheless, the book contains some crucial facts Americans must begin to face, and in his most recent column, George Will gives them a showcase:
The next four years will be the most dangerous in the nation's history because the 9/11 attacks were pinpricks compared to a clear and almost present menace. This year's pre-eminent question, beside which all others pale, is: Which candidate can best cope with the threat of nuclear terror?

. . .

The only serious impediment to creating a nuclear weapon is acquisition of fissionable material - - highly enriched uranium (HEU) or plutonium. In 1993, U.S. officials used ordinary bolt cutters to snip off the padlock that was the only security at an abandoned Soviet-era facility containing enough HEU for 20 nuclear weapons. In 2002, enough fissile material for three weapons was recovered from a laboratory in a Belgrade suburb. Often an underpaid guard and a chain-link fence are the only security at the more than 130 nuclear reactors and other facilities using HEU in 40 countries.

Allison says that at least four times between 1992 and 1999 weapons-useable materials were stolen from Russian research institutes but recovered. How many thefts have not been reported? The U.S. Cold War arsenal included Special Atomic Demolition Munitions that could be carried in a backpack. The Soviet arsenal often mimicked America's. Russia denies that ``suitcase" nuclear weapons exist, so it denies reports that at least 80 are missing. Soviet military forces deployed 22,000 tactical nuclear warheads -- without individual identification numbers. Who thinks all have been accounted for? Russia probably has 2 million pounds of weapons-useable material -- enough for 80,000 weapons.

In December 1994, Czech police seized more than eight pounds of HEU in a parked car on a side street. A senior al Qaeda aide's proclaimed goal of killing 4 million Americans would require 1,400 9/11s, or one 10-kiloton nuclear explosion -- from a softball-sized lump of fissionable material -- in four large American cities.

Of the 7 million seaborne cargo containers that arrive at U.S. ports each year, fewer than 5 percent are inspected. Fewer than 10 percent of arriving noncommercial private vessels are inspected. Given that 21,000 pounds of cocaine and marijuana are smuggled into the country each day, how hard would it be to smuggle a softball-sized lump of HEU on one of the 30,000 trucks, 6,500 rail cars or 50,000 cargo containers that arrive every day?

Intelligent people can differ about all that Allison says. But campaign time is becoming scarce for intelligent differing about how to prevent some American Ground Zero from becoming so poisoned by radiation that no one will be able to come within four miles of it.

Posted by Tim at 11:20 AM EDT

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