Archive for October 2007

Dept. of Homeland Security Steps Up Prevention of Nuke Attacks

October 31, 2007

Two separate pieces of news:

There was some buzz this week on DHS’s “Securing the Cities” project, a program designed to protect cities from nuclear and radioactive weapons by securing city perimeters. You can read about this week’s news at northjersey.com. Here’s a background article from 2/8/07 in the New York Times.

Small boat operators will come under increased scrutiny as DHS fears they could be used in an attack, including a nuclear bomb. That’s from this article today in USA Today.

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How much is that nuclear bomb in the window?

October 25, 2007

I scratch my head over the mainstream press when they debate whether Iran will get the bomb in two years or five years or 10 years. They’ve missed the big story: Nuclear bombs are available on the black market today!

The former Russian Security Council secretary, Alexander Lebed, said in an interview on 60 Minutes on September 9, 1997, that more than 100 suitcase nukes are missing from the breakup of the Soviet Union.

The situation is probably worse. In his book, The Al Qaeda Connection, Paul L. Williams speculates that even more nukes were at risk as they were transported from strategic sites to arsenals (arsenals that remain unsecured even to this day, see below):

“Yet the movement of the twenty-two thousand nuclear weapons occurred when everything in Russia was falling apart.…then secretary of defense Dick Cheney said that recovery of 90 percent of the nukes in Russia would represent ‘excellent performance’. Such an ‘excellent performance’ would mean that 220 weapons would have been lost, stolen, or otherwise unaccounted for.”

Mr. Williams continues at length documenting the history of the nuclear arms black market, including Al Qaeda’s attempts at purchasing them and their intent on using them. Two more passages from the book:

“In the first three years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the black market in nuclear weapons and materials began to boom.”

“On October 11, 2001, George Tenet, then director of the Central Intelligence Agency, met with President Bush to convey the news that at least two suitcase nukes had reached al Qaeda operatives within the United States… The news sent the president ‘through the roof’, prompting him to order his national security team to give nuclear terrorism priority over every other threat to America.”

Paul L. Williams is a journalist and formerly served as a consultant to the FBI and as an adjunct professor of humanities at the University of Scranton. Here’s the amazon link to this worthy book, which I’ll come back to at a later time.

Unfortunately, the unsecured Russian nuclear arsenals remain a big problem. I found little in the mainstream press on the subject so I dug up this press release from September 9, 2002, from California Congresswoman Ellen O. Tauscher of the House Armed Services Committee. Here’s an excerpt:

“Despite significant improvements, the most likely source for a terrorist to acquire nuclear materials is Russia. Everyone here knows that they have a vast nuclear complex with hundreds of tons of inadequately protected fissile material. We should assume that the world’s two most wanted men do, too. [This press release is from 2002 so the other most wanted man she’s referring to is Saddam Hussein.]

“Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda terrorist organization have made numerous attempts to buy stolen nuclear material and to recruit scientists to help them make a bomb….

“Through American nonproliferation efforts, Russia has taken steps to safeguard its nuclear arsenal, but they still have an insufficient inventory system and only 40 percent of their arsenal is truly secured.

“According to recent U.S intelligence, there have been numerous attempts in the last decade to steal fissile material from facilities throughout the former Soviet Union.

“According to the National Intelligence Council’s latest report to Congress, the Russian warhead security system ‘may not be sufficient to meet today’s challenge of a knowledgeable insider collaborating with a criminal or terrorist group.’

“According to the Energy Department, some 603 tons of weapons-usable nuclear material — enough to make over 40,000 nuclear devices — is located at 53 sites in the former Soviet Union that require security upgrades.

“To make matters worse, the recently-signed Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty will, ironically, make nuclear security problems worse because it does not commit either nation to actually destroying a single nuclear weapon. Instead, it will allow the United States and Russia to merely store weapons, like putting your car on blocks in a garage, leaving more nuclear parts in more locations where they will likely be less secure.

“The danger posed by unsecured nuclear material is not just a Russian problem. Enough civilian plutonium for many nuclear weapons exists in Germany, Belgium, Japan, and Switzerland, and some 20 tons of civilian highly enriched uranium exists at 345 operational and shut down civilian research facilities in 58 countries, sometimes in quantities large enough to make a bomb.”

Do you think this could get messy?

Cynicism and Irony

October 23, 2007

Pardon this cynical and facetious thought but I have a solution to global warming: nuclear winter. A bunch of nukes would create an abundance of dust and smoke in the atmosphere, which would shade the earth from the sun and lower global temperatures. While studies of the affects of nuclear winter are theoretical, it seems to be widely accepted. Famous astronomer Carl Sagan, who was no chump, first proposed nuclear winter.

And note this irony: Nuclear energy has the potential to both destroy the earth and to save the earth. While a nuclear war would immediately kill many and slowly kill more (nuclear winter, cancer), nuclear power plants may be the only practical solution to global warming. Every energy source has problems and some are quite damaging—don’t get me started on coal—but nuclear power does not emit greenhouse gases. In fact, some well-known environmentalists are now pro-nuclear, such as Greenpeace cofounder Patrick Moore and British environmentalist James Lovelock.

Full Disclosure: I own uranium mining stocks in my investment portfolio. This is not a political statement as I invest only to make money.

Radioactive “Dirty Bomb” Exercise

October 14, 2007

The Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) is running a dirty bomb preparedness exercise this week, Oct. 15-19, called TOPOFF 4 (Top Officials 4). It’ll take place in Portland, Phoenix and Guam and will involve many thousands of people from all levels of the public and private sectors. Here’s the TOPOFF 4 link in the DHS website, although there’s not much there.

Training for people directly involved in disaster prevention and relief is important but what about you and me? A first responder is probably not going to be available in the first two minutes after an explosion to help me decide if I should seek shelter or evacuate. Everybody needs preparation.

Interestingly, dirty bombs use conventional explosives so it may not be apparent that a bomb is dirty (i.e., radioactive). One thing you can do if you suspect radiation is to shed your clothes, which you should always do if you’re contaminated, and save them in a sealed plastic bag for testing.

How easy is it to obtain radioactive material to create a dirty bomb? Here’s something from the book, Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe, by Graham Allison, founding dean of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and a former assistant secretary of defense under Clinton:

“The consensus in the national security community has long been that a dirty bomb attack is inevitable, indeed long overdue. The integration of various forms of radioactive material in modern life, from X-rays in dentists’ offices and hospitals to smoke detectors, has made control of such material impossible.”

This is a worthy book and I’ll come back to it at a later time. Here’s the amazon link.