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Nuclear Space And Fears Of Nuclear Proliferation

The current push for the development and use of nuclear space technologies has largely ignored the over riding issue of nuclear proliferation controls and the impacts these controls will have on civil society in the decades ahead
by Wayne Smith
Founder of
Brisbane - Mar 25, 2003
According to New York's Democratic Senator Charles Schumer, "It doesn't matter how good our airport security is if all it takes to bring a nuclear device right into midtown is putting it on a ship or bringing it in on a truck."

The Homeland Security Department doesn't want to discuss it but this is their greatest fear. Defending cities from terrorist nuclear weapons and avoiding mass panic in the process. This was once the stuff of movies and nightmares. Now its a very serious threat too and scientists are being told to find answers.

Some analysts and scientists have actually been warning us of this danger for a very long time.

Theodore Taylor, a pioneering nuclear weapons designer has been convinced of the peril for decades. In fact, he believes it to be the number one threat facing humanity today. It is a frequent subject on his lecture circuit but until now hasn't recieved the attention it deserves.

Creating a foolproof system for detecting smuggled nuclear bombs will be expensive but certainly not impossible to achieve. Radiological elements are incredibly dense and metallic substances. They also give themselves away by emmitting radiation.

This allows several methods of tackling the problem of detection and the best answer will be a combination of such measures. If we can achieve the mammoth task of screening everything from baggage and people all the way up to container shipments then the net should be holeproof.

Unless terrorists build a bomb within a target country and thereby evade customs points completely. The only answer to that unsavoury possibility is surrounding entire cities with detection systems. Like I said, expensive.

Gamma ray spectrometers are one type of radiation sensor which could be employed. X-ray machines as seen in Airports are yet another tool. Dense objects like metal often showing up as blue on their monitors.

Both these systems can be tricked by shielding but you do know the shielding is there and the area therefore falls under 'suspicious'. Metal detectors are another detection apparatus already in use at Airports.

Currently employed for rapid detection of metal objects like guns on passengers as they walk through the bulky apparatus. Unfortunately, these are not foolproof either. Sensitivity is dependant on fluctuations in the electromagnetic field.

A wristwatch could therefore set one off by brushing too closely to the side while a small gun hidden in a boot or inside pocket might pass through unnoticed. Thats one reason why it is now common practice to remove your shoes.

A new futuristic technology now being investigated has originated from studies into cosmic rays. This type of radiation penetrates much further than X-rays can.

Emanating from space it routinely enters Earth's biosphere and hits air molecules to produce Muons. By measuring the change in angular momentum caused by striking a dense object these Muons could be an excellent new means of detecting radioisotopes.

This particle is completely harmless to humans and the new detectors are expected to be very cheap. This will be a major plus in their favour when systems are selected to be deployed around every major city.

It all started on July 16 1945 in the remote Alamogordo desert of New Mexico. A mushroom cloud rose into the air and in one brief instant the World changed dramatically forever. This was the Trinity Test. It marked the dawn of the Atomic Age.

Emitting an eerie blue glow due to massive levels of radiation, the explosion of the first atomic bomb was witnessed by awestruck Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist Enrico Fermi. Stationed at the Trinity Base Camp roughly ten miles from the site of the explosion, he estimated that the blast produced was comparable with ten thousand tons of T.N.T.

At 7:30pm on July 24 in a meeting of the allied leaders, one week after the successful test, President Truman casually mentioned to Stalin that the US had a new weapon of unusual destructive force.

All the Russian Premier had to say on the matter was that he was 'glad to hear it...' and hoped they would 'make good use of it against the Japanese...'. The President later stated that Stalin's reply had indicated no especial interest. The Genaralissimo seemed to have no conception of what Truman was in fact talking about.

It was simply another weapon and he hoped they would use it effectively. Five feet away Churchill watched this momentous talk very carefully. He knew what the President was going to say.

What was vital to measure was its effect on Stalin. 'He seemed to be delighted....' reflected Churchill at a later date. As they were waiting for their cars the British PM found himself near Truman. 'How did it go?' he asked. 'He never asked a question,' replied Truman.

The new weapon was first used on Hiroshima, then Nagasaki, leading to the end of World War II. The US, somewhat drunk on power perhaps, took the position of doting parent to the rest of the World.

It saw itself in the unique role of leading the control of nuclear weapons development Worldwide. The repercussions of failing to keep other nations down in this regard was not lost on Commander-in-Chief President Truman at the time.

The beginning of the Cold War started with the USSR's detonation of an atomic bomb in 1949. The 1950's saw construction of the first bomb shelters. The United States deployed Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles in 1958 thus marking the dawn of nuclear proliferation.

France and China joined the "Nuclear Club" during the 1960's. The Cuban Missile Crisis. Vietnam. Social demonstrations across the world. All this led to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. A global agreement in which the handful of nuclear powers now including Britain promised to bring about complete nuclear disarmament.

It never stood a chance.

The treaty was signed on July 1, 1968 and entered into force on March 5, 1970. The Non-Nuclear Weapons States ("those without the Bomb") promised to refrain from trying to build the bomb.

The Nuclear Weapons States ("those in the club") in return agreed to eventually disarm. The juicy carrot of unrestricted access to nuclear energy for non-military purposes was also offered.

The NPT has become the cornerstone of futile global disarmament efforts. How many nations signed it with the intention of breaking it is unknown. Many probably did sign to appease the military might of the fearful nuclear club.

Commercial reactors, which would otherwise be denied them, were also an attractive incentive. Owning such reactors not only gave a nation electricity but a source of material from which to build nuclear arsenals secretly, if they so wished.

Metal Oxide (MOX) taken from spent fuel pools at commercial reactors can be processed into a fissionable weapon core. Just ask North Korea. In 1985 it was revealed that Israel might have up to 200 nuclear weapons stockpiled.

The Utopian Dreamers of nuclear disarmament got a boost to their impossible cause when Ukraine, Kazahkstan and Belarus chose to give up their nuclear arsenals inherited from the former Soviet Union.

More out of not wanting to pay costly maintenance than any willingness to aid the Utopians fantasies. Other nuclear weapons states have not followed suit. By the end of the 1990's two other countries, India then Pakistan, tested nuclear weapons.

This decade began with the US proceeding on a nationwide missile defense system, abrogating the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in the process. Thereby demonstrating the folly of thinking Treaties are in any way unbreakable. Obviously they are just paper.

Anyone can step away from an international treaty if it suits them to do so. To bring history up to date we now see North Korea completely withdrawing from the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty. Rogue

nations numbering quite possibly in the double figures are thought to be trying very hard to obtain nuclear weapons and this is one reason given for the war on Iraq.

The next worthless piece of paper was the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty which opened for signing in 1996. Ratification by the 44 Nuclear Weapons-Capable States is necessary before the treaty can enter into force.

Only 2 of the Nuclear Weapons States, France and the United Kingdom have ratified the CTBT so far and three of the 44 Nuclear Weapons-Capable States, the DPRK, India and Pakistan, refuse to sign it. The CTBT was again set back in October 1999 when the US Senate failed to ratify it.

Preventing further nuclear weapons development is the clear aim of the CTBT, yet the US, Russia, and other Weapons States proceed to develop new nuclear weapons using computer simulations and subcritical underground testing.

Although not a full nuclear weapons test, subcritical testing violates the absurd rules layed out by the CTBT. Why is everybody cheating? Because they don't want to fall behind everybody else ofcourse.

What nobody thought about at the beginning of the Atomic Age was the infinite power of human determination and hatred. The prospect that one day the bomb could fall into terrorist hands. We are still not prepared for such a day.

The attitude has always been that Nuclear Proliferation can somehow be controlled when clearly it cannot. Certainly not forever at any rate. As clever as we were to develop fission technology the fact remains it is getting increasingly easier to obtain with every passing year.

The first bombs were after all accomplishable with 1940's technology.

So how will we adapt to a world rife with nuclear terrorism? In the same way we should have perhaps adapted in the very beginning. By investing in domestic customs services above all else.

This seems logical now in retrospect. Each nation should be responsible for policing nuclear material within its own borders. International policing of Uranium and it's enrichment is simply too difficult to be effective.

The amount of missing radioactive material each year is testament to this fact. Uranium can be either bought on the Blackmarket, taken from commercial reactors or simply mined and we don't know where it all is.

Iran, which is suspected of trying to build nuclear weapons, now owns a Uranium mine. Acting on an anonymous tip a taxi was stopped last year and found to have box full of Uranium under the passenger seat.

It was heading towards Iraq. One of many thefts uncovered each year and the culprits in this instance were discovered to be rank amateurs. A global nuclear police force can only really work in a Global state where all countries are part of a single government wielding total control.

Personally, I would prefer to face nuclear weapons than such a loss of freedom. The nations of the World have had 57 years to prepare for nuclear terrorism. In that time Iraq and other nations have been devising ingenious methods of secretly enriching Uranium on a very small scale.

Methods almost impossible to detect. This is part of the reason for the coalition's war on Saddam Hussein. He spoke loudly of his intentions to hurt the US. The overthrow of that administration may teach other rogue states the value of silent hatred but not disuade them from pursuing nuclear weapons.

There is also the 'dirty bomb' threat. Far easier than a fission device to construct and very frightening.

Just blow up a radioactive element and contaminate a large area. Time is what those who want the most devastating weapons now have in abundance. The bomb was developed out of fear that others would build it first.

Now the fear being realised is not who has the bomb but who is following in our shadowy footsteps. As long as humans can think they will disagree on important matters.

As long as differences exist there will be hate and war. If we continue to underestimate the ingenuity of other nations in hiding nuclear research we will eventually pay a very heavy price for our arrogance.

The knowledge that nuclear bombs are possible will always be out there now and we do ourselves great harm by pretending otherwise. Knowing something is possible is half the job of getting it done.

We cannot go back to the innocence preceding that fateful day in 1945 when the genie was unleashed. It may not be time to pull up the draw bridges and dig moats just yet but it is time to spend big on the technology provided to our customs services.

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Tiny Device Can Detect Hidden Nuclear Weapons, Materials
Argonne - Jun 28, 2002
A small, portable detector for finding concealed nuclear weapons and materials has been developed by the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory.

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