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Outside View: Growing nuclear threat

By
HELEN CALDICOTT, UPI Outside View Commentator

WASHINGTON, April 9 (UPI) -- According to the British counter-intelligence group MI-5, over 360 private companies, university departments, and government organizations in eight countries, including Israel, Syria, Pakistan, Iran, India, Egypt, the Pakistani High Commission in London, and the United Arab Emirates, have been procuring nuclear technology and equipment for use in nuclear weapons construction.

At the same time that the International Atomic Energy Authority and the U.S. government profess extreme concern about the proliferation of nuclear weapons, they are actively promoting and encouraging the dissemination of technology, expertise, and materials that make proliferation likely.

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With sophisticated technology the minimum amount of plutonium required to make a bomb is 1 to 3 kilograms (2.2 to 6.6 pounds), however the generally accepted amount is 5 kg (11 pounds) of weapons-grade plutonium and 8 kg (17.6 pounds) for reactor-grade plutonium. The design is available on the Internet; the essential materials can be bought at any hardware store. A homemade plutonium bomb would be difficult to make but a bomb using highly-enriched uranium would be less so. And the world is awash in plutonium

In light of terrorist attacks using conventional weapons, it is only a matter of time before someone steals enough plutonium to make an adequate nuclear weapon. Then we proceed into the age of nuclear terrorism.

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Even as there is much hand-wringing at the United Nations about the possibility that Iran and North Korea may be developing nuclear weapons, eight nations -- Russia, the United States, France, China, Britain, India, Israel, and Pakistan -- possess their own nuclear arsenals, and others are free to develop weapons without the admonitions that the United States and the United Nations are imposing upon Iran and North Korea.

On the strategic front, the Bush administration has drafted a revised plan allowing military commanders to request presidential approval to use nuclear weapons to preempt an attack by a nation or terrorist group deemed to be planning to use weapons of mass destruction. These military commanders will also be permitted to use nuclear weapons to destroy known enemy stockpiles of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons. The United States has always had a "first-use" policy against nuclear-armed nations, but now this strategy is also being applied to non-nuclear nations for the first time. Had this strategy been in place before the invasion of Iraq, a nuclear attack could have been justified to "take out" Iraq's imaginary weapons of mass destruction.

Many countries are angry about the paternalism and arrogance displayed over the years by the nuclear-haves. As President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, which is now actively developing uranium enrichment facilities, said recently, "Every day they (the Americans) are threatening other nations with nuclear weapons, and they are never inspected." He said that Western countries were "relying on their power and wealth to try to impose a climate of intimidation and injustice over the world."

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Hugo Chavez of Venezuela displayed similar feelings when he said recently, "It cannot be that some countries that have developed nuclear energy prohibit those of the Third World from developing it. We are not the ones developing atomic bombs, it's others who do that."

The United States is directly responsible for the breakdown of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Review conference at the United Nations in May 2005, which collapsed when U.S. Under Secretary for Disarmament John Bolton refused to participate in meaningful discussions, thereby sabotaging the meeting, to the despair and disgust of the rest of the world. By the time of the United Nations summit in September 2005, John Bolton had been promoted to the position of U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and he intervened, vehemently objecting to the United Nations' focus on disarmament of the major powers, rather than on the spread of nuclear weapons among rogue states and terrorists. Because the United States wields enormous power at the United Nations, the proposed new rules on disarmament and nuclear weapons proliferation were completely disregarded.

Then-U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan concluded the summit by ruing its outcome. He made a final speech in which he said, "It's a real disgrace," lamenting the omission, blaming "posturing" for a failure to find a common approach to the spread of weapons of mass destruction. He said that nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament is "our biggest challenge" and our "biggest failing," as he recalled the collapse of the NPT review conference earlier in 2005.

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(This piece originally appeared in Dr. Helen Caldicott's "Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer," The New Press, 2006. Ths piece is published here with the permission of The New Press. Helen Caldicott is president of the Washington-based Nuclear Policy Research Institute. She was a founder of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, the organization that won the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize.)

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(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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