Picks and Pans Review: Scary Book of the Week
Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe
While trying to fend off hijackers and anthrax, has the U.S. failed to envision the most horrific act of terrorism? Osama bin Laden and others haven't, says Harvard professor of government Graham Allison. He warns that a nuclear attack could be around the corner and suggests how to prevent it.
HOW LIKELY IS A NUCLEAR ATTACK? A nuclear terrorist attack is likely and even imminent. Bin Laden has been searching for nuclear weapons for a decade.
WHAT KIND OF INCIDENT IS MOST LIKELY? A dirty bomb—dynamite plus radioactive material—is easier to make than an atomic bomb, which requires a nuclear fission reaction. With a dirty bomb the dynamite does most of the immediate damage, and the radioactive material has long-term effects on health.
WHERE WOULD TERRORISTS GET NUCLEAR MATERIALS? In Russia you can go to a building where there is highly enriched uranium and security so inadequate that a person could put material in their lunchbox and walkout. Or Pakistan or North Korea, the most promiscuous proliferator.
ARE ATOMIC BOMBS WITHIN THE REACH OF TERRORISTS TOO? Yes. Russia has just short of 20,000 nuclear weapons.
WHAT CAN BE DONE? The good news is that nuclear terrorism is preventable. We must prevent terrorists from getting fissile material [enriched uranium or Plutonium]. It's very hard to make, requiring roughly $1 billion and a decade of intensive effort. Human beings know how to lock things up—the U.S. loses no gold from Fort Knox. The U.S. and Russia should agree to lock up all nuclear weapons and materials from which weapons can be made, then persuade other governments to follow suit. We can't take no for an answer.
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