Tuesday, May 25, 2004

If you know enough, it's not that hard to build a nuclear bomb -- less the fissile material

Report Urges Tighter Nuclear Controls (washingtonpost.com)
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. wondered aloud one day in 2002 whether someone could build an atomic weapon from parts available on the open market. His audience, the leaders of the government's nuclear laboratories, said it could be done.

Then do it, the Delaware Democrat, then chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, instructed the scientists in a confidential session. A few months later, they returned to the soundproof Senate meeting room with a workable nuclear weapon, missing only the fissile material.

'It was bigger than a breadbox and smaller than a dump truck, but they were able to get it in,' Biden said in a recent speech. The scientists 'explained how -- literally off the shelf, without doing anything illegal -- they actually constructed this device.'

The relative ease with which U.S. scientists built an explosive nuclear weapon illustrates the need to secure plutonium and highly enriched uranium scattered in armories and research sites around the world, a pair of Harvard University researchers argue in a new study that contends the Bush administration is not doing enough.

A SUV bomb that levels a city. This isn't all that new. I recall reading in the NYT a year or two ago that even smaller weapons were no longer extraordinarily difficult to construct, though for smaller weapons I gather the parts are not so easily obtained.

Technology marches on. Today it takes experts a bit of time. Five years from now it takes lesser experts less time. Ten years from now it's a high school project. How well can we do locking up all fissile material?

Then one day a fusion bomb becomes relatively easy to build.

Bush is fighting yesterday's wars with yesterday's methods.

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