Thursday, November 23, 2006

Oh and Happy ThanksGiving...

Denenberg: A Half-Hour Away From Nuking Philadelphia
By: Herb Denenberg, Special To The Evening Bulletin

A nuclear bomb may go off in Philadelphia or some other major American city in the next half-hour or perhaps in the next few months. As the sage said, that ought to concentrate our mind and make us finally get serious about the war against Islamic/fascist/Nazi terrorism and extremism.
But maybe not. We've had 9/11, the first World Trade Center Bombing, the attacks on our embassies and barracks, the attack on the USS Cole and other attacks against American interests and others around the world in Bali, Jakarta, Madrid and London - not to mention the countless terror attempts planned but thwarted. So maybe it will take the nuking of a major American city with perhaps 100,000 or a million casualties or more to get our attention.
Right now, those who warn against the worse case scenario are viewed as alarmists and dealers in scare tactics. Major politicians don't get it. In fact, no less a political figure that former President Clinton joked about the terror threat next door as if it was some kind of irrational bogeyman fear. Pundits and columnists have written columns about politicians who see the threat of World War III as if they were borderline irrationals. Yes, they are as irrational as Winston Churchill was during the rise of Hitler.
Yet the fact remains that we are the targets of an enormous worldwide conspiracy by terrorists and extremists who want to kill all of us and bring down the U.S. and the rest of Western civilization. If we can't figure out what is going on in the world after all the worldwide terror attacks, after all the worldwide pronouncements of terrorists and political leaders in such places as Iran, after all the unaccounted for nuclear materials from Russia and elsewhere, after the buildup toward nuclear weapons in the hands of irrational heads of state such as North Korea and Iran and after all the terror attacks, then maybe it's hopeless.
But for the record, we ought to face the reality, and that was brought home to me again by an article in Foreign Policy (December 2006) headlined, "The Terrorists Next Door: It is easier to build a nuclear bomb than most people realize. When they attack, it will look a lot like this."
The authors, Peter D. Zimmerman and Jeffrey G. Lewis, point out that Osama bin Laden and other terrorists have a long-standing interest in acquiring nuclear weapons and have attempted many times to purchase uranium from Sudan and from other sources. I'm sure they don't want nuclear material for medical purposes. The U.S. military actually found crude designs for atomic bombs in Afghanistan in an al-Qaida safe house. Osama bin Laden has actually called for the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction as a "religious duty."
And terrorists could build a nuclear bomb if they wanted to, and they clearly want to. The authors write, "Most observers, however, agree that a small group could construct a lethal nuclear weapon since they are conceptually simple devices. After all, the technology involved in creating a nuclear weapon is more than 60 years old. In fact, it is perhaps easier to make a gun-assembled nuclear bomb than it is to develop biological or chemical weapons." A gun-assembled nuclear bomb "consists of a gun that fires a highly enriched uranium 'bullet' into a cylindrical target block, also made of highly enriched uranium."
Without getting into the specific details, which might aid and abet terrorists, the authors cost and describe what it would take for terrorists to produce a nuclear weapon, describing personnel, material and processes. From design to final transportation, the authors cost it out at $5,433,000.
The authors note how quick and easy some phases of the weapons construction could be: "When China built its first nuclear bomb in 1964, a single technician named Yuan Gongful used a lathe to shape the highly enriched uranium in just one night. New or used lathes large enough to properly finish the roughly cast pit can be bought on the Internet, even on eBay, for $10,000."
We don't know how far along some terrorists are to building a nuclear weapon to be used against us. The authors note, "No one really knows how much highly enriched uranium there is in the world, or how close the wrong groups are to getting the right amount. The frightening truth is that fissile material, including nuclear explosive material, is an item of commerce, and moves from place to place. One of the side effects of our globalized economy is that opportunities for direct theft and bribing of nuclear custodians abound."
The authors wisely counsel that just because our cities haven't been nuked yet, that doesn't mean they might be and all to soon. They stress we have to get serious about the nuclear threat in particular and the war against Islamic/fascist/Nazi terrorism and extremism in particular.
They leave us with this grim reality: "Although building a nuclear device remains an expensive, complex undertaking out of reach for most organizations, a well-financed group that seeks to kill very large numbers of people may well find it an irresistible option. A wealthy organization seeking to kill several hundred thousand people could hardly find a more economical method than the detonation of a small nuclear device."

Herb Denenberg, a former Pennsylvania insurance commissioner and professor at the Wharton School, is a longtime Philadelphia journalist and consumer advocate. His column appears daily in The Evening Bulletin. You can reach him at

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