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Is the U.S. doing a good job of stopping nuclear proliferation?

Don't Panic!... Your war questions answered

I have some good news for the world's leading underwear salesmen, and some bad news for everyone else. The United States is not doing a very good job stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons, nuclear materials or nuclear know-how. Worse still, even though it's one of the most important security threats the nation faces, I don't even think we're trying very hard.

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Nevertheless, in a speech last week at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory nuclear weapons complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., (the city that's home of the world's oldest nuclear reactor, the International Friendship Bell peace monument, and an Applebee's), President Bush took the un-American step of disagreeing with me, claiming that his War On Terror (tm) is making us safer from nuclear threats.

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To argue his point, Dubya brought up two successes — one real and one not so real.

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The real: Bush noted that Libya has surrendered its WMD. It's an honest-to-goodness success (although honesty and goodness disappear every time Bush tries to tie the Libyan success to the Iraq War). The White House deserves credit for closing the deal, but negotiations for it began in 1999, long before the Iraq War and nearly two years before Gore won the election that put Bush in office.

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The not so real: Dubya also noted the uncovering of Pakistan's Abdul Qadeer Khan nuclear proliferation network. In Bush's words, the Khan network is "out of business." In fact, while A.Q. Khan is out of business (he was arrested and then immediately pardoned for his crimes by Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf), a lot of his network goes on. Many members of Khan's traveling nuclear sales team are still on the loose, and copies of the nuclear centrifuge plans that Khan was selling are still on the market. An aside: Just to be a good citizen, I've been trying to help the government find Khan's plans on my own. While I have yet to discover them, I did locate a detailed diagram on eBay of the first American hydrogen bomb. The starting bid is $6.95. Contact eBay member "dr**zarkoff" for details.

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The problem with Bush's overall message, and the reason I think that "Fallout Shelters for Dummies" is a potential best seller, is that Libya and A.Q. Khan are but two tiny parts of the problem. Much bigger threats are outlined in the recently released study "Managing the Global Nuclear Materials Threat: Policy Recommendations." Based on what the study says, the flaws in the Bush administration's approach to curbing nuclear arms are inexcusable.

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Much of the report talks about the nuclear facilities that litter Russia and other former Soviet states. According to the study, 1,000 tons of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium are scattered throughout 50 sites in the former Soviet Union. Several of the sites are less secure than garden sheds. Some have security systems crippled by power outages. One was once discovered with the door to its nuclear storage room wide open and unguarded. A lot of the guards in these facilities are drug-addled (drug busts are commonplace), most are underpaid (drugs are expensive, ya know!), and some are just plain crooked. I could fill this page with examples of Russian military and nuclear personnel who've been caught stealing nuclear equipment. In fact, the report's Appendix A, titled Anecdotes of Nuclear Insecurity, is 13 pages long.

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If you think that Russia's too big and its facilities too disparate to reign in, you're wrong. According to Harvard nuclear proliferation expert Matthew Bunn, we could secure all of Russia's weapons-grade uranium for the price of a single B-2 bomber or, in Sally Struthers terms, one billion cups of coffee. Are we doing it? No. Is anyone in the Bush administration suggesting that we attempt it? No.

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And that's just Russia. Let's not forget that North Korea already has nukes and Iran is well on its way. Pakistan has them, too — and also has a government heavily infiltrated by Muslim fundamentalists unwilling to punish proliferators like A.Q. Khan. Yet, even though Bush claims credit for negotiating away Libya's WMD, no similar program is underway with any of those countries.

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I think I'm gonna go cry now.

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andisheh@creativeloafing.com



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