The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida on December 7, 1997 · Page 93
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The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida · Page 93

West Palm Beach, Florida
Issue Date:
Sunday, December 7, 1997
Page 93
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F THE PALM BEACH POST SUNDAY. DECEMBER 7, 1997 5E Bomb's secret is out, ingredients must be guarded ' "i m i .... mi 7 I TERRORISM From IE 'Twenty years ago, a writer named Howard Morland made headlines by publicly unveiling his design for a homemade thermonuclear bomb. Predicated on information gleaned from sources ranging from the Encyclopedia Americana to a host of declassified . documents, Mr. Morland's 270-pound device bore little resemblance to government photos depicting hydrogen bombs as 20-ioot-long, 20-ton behemoths. f Mr. Morland's point in developing the schematic was to heighten awareness of the proliferation of potentially dangerous information and to debunk the belief that weapons of mass destruction were impossibly difficult to either con-; struct or transport. The viability of ' his amateur schematic and the validity of his assertions was ', made evident when the U.S. gov-; ernment unsuccessfully sued to ; prevent its publication. (The de- sign eventually ran in the Novem- ' ber 1979 issue of The Progressive.) ; Instructions for $3 mMva ' J Mr. Morland's schematic was more conceptual than tactical precise details were missing leading some skeptics, including a group of scientists assembled by the Nuclear Control Institute, to assert that a layman still lacks sufficient information to build a bomb. "The detailed design drawings and specifications that are essential before it is possible to plan the fabrication of actual parts are not available," the group pointed out. Furthermore, "the prepa- , ration of these drawings requires a What's superpower to do? The proliferation of nuclear material and weapons, the destabi-lization of the Soviet regime, the vulnerability of American targets and the growth of fanatic groups and rogue states have all combined to move us ever closer to nuclear disaster. So what's a conscientious superpower to do? The first, most important step: Place greater emphasis on the control of fissile material. To its credit, the Clinton administration has taken a stab at addressing the problem. It has persuaded the former Soviet republics of Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan to give up their nuclear weapons (though not all their nuclear materials) in exchange for economic assistance. And it has helped physically remove more than 1,300 pounds of highly enriched uranium from Kazakhstan. There remains, however, much to be done. Our only hope of preventing an apocalyptic terrorist event is through a multistep program that first moves to secure the existing stockpiles of fissile materials, then works to develop organizations with the skills and infrastructure to prevent terrorist attacks. Among the actions the U.S. should take: Develop a systematic method of providing physical protection for existing stockpiles of fissile materials that exist throughout the world. This method may include rendering this material "inactive" through innovative encasement procedures or, in the case of highly enriched uranium, through dilution with non-fissile uranium isotopes. The United States must also insist that such standards for containment are adopted by the global nuclear community; otherwise, they will be of little value. Develop a set of international protocols for the transfer of fissile materials that includes a method of tracking their whereabouts during transit. Create an international intelligence organization capable of monitoring and responding to threats of nuclear terrorism. Unfortunately, at present, U.S. leaders seem more excited by the pursuit of pie-in-the-sky missile defense systems (which scored a whopping $3.8 billion in the latest defense budget) than in the more pedestrian task of safeguarding fissile materials. As the Harvard Center for Science and International Affairs study concluded, "Despite the serious threat of loose nuclear weapons and fissile materials and despite the existence of a panoply of measures that could help reduce the likelihood of leakage from the deadly arsenal of former Soviet weapons and fissile materials, at present there appears to be little prospect that America's leaders . . . will take the lead in crafting a more ambitious and potentially effective anti-leakage effort." But such misplaced priorities are too dangerous to be left uncorrected. Congress, and the American people, need to fully awaken to the challenge and the danger that face us. Nuclear terrorism is a global threat that will require a coordinated international response. The U.S. released the nuclear genie; it has an obligation to take the lead in stuffing it back in the bottle. , large number of man-hours . . . and the direct participation of individuals thoroughly informed , (about ... the physical, chemical ; and metallurgical properties of various materials to be used, as .' well as the characteristics affect-.1 ing their fabrication." But cut through the scientific mumbo-iumbo, and one finds that ', such knowledge is a lot easier to ,'. obtain than these scientists care to ' admit. For instance, a key piece of information that would-be nuke ' builders might require relates to i the critical mass of fissile material ; needed to induce fission under select circumstances. Now granted, this is not the I type ot technical calculation your run-of the-mill terrorist can work nations. The raw ingredients they need to construct a viable weapon are often as close as the nearest nuclear power plant located either within their own borders or in neighboring countries. Certain types of nuclear reactors, known as "breeders," produce a surplus of plutonium in a form that can be readily converted into weapons-grade material. The technology is out there, the raw materials are plentiful so just how worried should we be? Would a terrorist group that got its hands on a nuclear weapon actually dare to use it against us? Recent events speak for themselves: The World Trade Center bombing, the Aum Shinrikyo attack on the Tokyo subway and the destruction of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City all point to a major shift in the sophistication and tactics of the world's fanatics. Bruce Hoffman, an analyst for the Rand organization, suggests that these events are a portent of what is to come: "The March 1995 deadly nerve gas on the Tokyo underground marks a historical watershed in terrorist tactics and weaponry. Previously, most terrorists had an aversion to the esoteric and exotic weapons of mass destruction popularized in fictional thrillers or depicted in action-hero movies and TV shows." Not only has the terrorists' modus operandi changed, but so, too, have their capabilities. Heretofore, it was erroneously presumed that terrorist organizations lacked the requisite infrastructure or resources to engage in nuclear terrorism. Yet the Aum, who were actively exploring the use of nuclear weapons, built an organization with 50,000 adherents, $1 billion in assets and a staff of elite scientists all without raising alarm. A congressional permanent subcommittee on investigations was shocked to find "that the Aum and their doomsday weapons were not on anybody's radar screen." conducted by the Harvard-based Center for Science and International Affairs, nuclear material is already being traded on the black market. The study revealed that in August 1994, German police arrested two passengers on a flight from Moscow to Munich who were carrying a suitcase containing nearly a pound of 87 percent-pure plutonium-239. Likewise, in December of that same year, three kilograms of highly enriched uranium (87.5 percent pure) were seized in Prague, along with Soviet nuclear documents. In a destabilized region undergoing profound economic and social transformations, such acts of theft are inevitable. As then-Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., stated in testimony delivered in September 1996: "It is simply unrealistic to assume that the tons of nuclear materials that are improperly secured, along with thousands of out-of-work Soviet weapons scientists and their equipment, will never end up in the wrong hands. Add to this new proliferation problem the evidence of possible organized crime involvement in weapons smuggling, and you have the ingredients of a full-blown disaster looming on the horizon." Rogue nations in market But terrorist groups are not the only ones itching to get their hands on nuclear weapons. Rogue nations such as Syria, Iran and Iraq many of which are known sponsors of terrorism are determined to join the nuclear club, even if it requires a little extralegal shopping. For instance, in their new nonfiction book One Point Safe (on which The Peacemaker was loosely based), authors Andrew and Leslie Cockburn describe how Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's son Qusay leads a special covert unit charged with purchasing nuclear missile parts on the Russian black market. Nor is the Soviet Union the only source of nukes for these material onto the other half. Most people seem unaware that if separated U-235 is at hand, it's a trivial job to set off a nuclear explosion. . . . Even a high school kid could make a bomb in short order." Of course, know-how is of little use to a bomb maker if he can't get his hands on the right ingredients. But the actual quantity of fissile material he'll need is pretty small. "The minimum amount of material needed to make a bomb is less than one kilogram of plutonium-239 or three kilograms of urani-um-235," notes Mr. Taylor. Beetle trunkload is enough And although a crude bomb constructed by terrorists would most likely require a larger critical mass of fissionable materials, the necessary quantity would still be far from prohibitive. The finished device, says Mr. Taylor, would be small enough "to fit in the trunk of a Volkswagen Beetle." What's more, rounding up a bit of fissile material isn't as tough as it used to be, particularly in the destabilized states of the former Soviet Union. In testimony before the Senate in March of last year, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., described a General Accounting Office report that details the depths to which security at Soviet nuclear waste storage facilities has sunk: "A GAO investigator was able to enter one facility without identifying himself, and there was only one guard present, who was unarmed. . . . There are other descriptions of incredibly lax security that even the most inept thief could easily penetrate undetected. It is almost an open invitation. The implications of this are staggering. "A grapefruit-sized ball of uranium, which would weigh about 30 pounds, could obliterate the lower half of the city of New. York. A lot more uranium than that is already unaccounted for. We do not know whether it is in the hands of terrorists, or where it is. All we know is that it is missing." Russia situation tense The nuclear weapons situation in Russia is no more comforting, with approximately 27,000 nuclear warheads and 1,300 tons of fissile material lying around, providing a tempting smorgasbord for wannabe terrorists. And in the wake of the USSR's collapse, the vigilance with which this stockpile was once guarded has deteriorated precipitously. Russian Gen. Alexander Lebed recently announced that during a routine inventory, 84 Special Atomic Demolition Munitions, or tactical nukes, were found to be missing from the Russian arsenal. All told, Russia has about 17,000 tactical nukes. Small enough to fit into an average-sized suitcase (making them a prime target for thieves), each bomb is capable of demolishing Manhattan. And even though the U.S., through the Material Protection, Control, and Accounting Program, is working with authorities in the former Soviet state to remove or at least secure the nuclear material lying around in research facilities and nuclear power plants, much of this nuclear material will remain vulnerable to theft or sabotage for years to come. The gravity of the situation is evident to the Russians, if not to our own government. Last October, the director of one of Russia's major nuclear weapons research centers killed himself, explaining in his suicide note that he was no longer capable of guaranteeing the security of the nuclear materials under his supervision. According to William Potter, director of the Center for Nonpro-liferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, in the former Soviet Union alone there have been seven documented cases of significant quantities of bomb-grade nuclear materials being stolen (as opposed to simply disappearing) since the nation's collapse. And, according to a study out by conducting experiments in ) his bathtub. According to Ted Tay-j lor, however, "if someone gets a ! hold of the Los Alamos critical- mass summaries, he can see how much material is critical in various .forms various ways of shaping the metal, various reflectors wrapped around it." Critical-mass summaries can be obtained by writing to the Na-; tional Technical Information Service in Washington. "They cost ; three dollars," offers Mr. Taylor. ' ' In any event, such detailed .'information may not even be necessary. Luis Alvarez, a physicist of Manhattan Project fame, claims that if one possesses the right material, even imprecise information is sufficient to achieve a nuclear explosion. With modern weapons-grade uranium, Mr. Alvarez points out in a NCI study, "terrorists, if they had such material, would have a good chance of setting off a high-yield explosion simply by dropping one half of the ;A mission for us all: Don't let growth make Florida unlivable A 7Tr- -VX - drain Southeastern Florida. The corps did not properly identify the boundaries of the Everglades and walled in far too small a mass to ever recreate the Everglades that once was. We are preparing to spend $900 million, the first step in a multibillion-dollar project that will attempt to clean the polluted drainage coming out of the sugar farms and buy back thousands of acres of wetlands before they are built on. The canals drained the western sections of Dade, Broward and Palm Beach County, ostensibly for agriculture, but the farmland, the critically important winter vegetable-producing areas, are now becoming are going to become bedroom communities and shopping centers. The original drainage system is overwhelmed because of the overdevelopment of the basins that they were designed to serve. All levels of government failed to protect the integrity of the primary drainage system by allowing or encouraging overdevelopment. A storm, even a minor one, now forces water managers to make horrible decisions on whether to allow houses to rot or waterways to receive billions of gallons of polluted water. Growth has been the "god" of Florida. Years of data showing that uncontrolled growth doesn't pay for itself in fact causes those who are here to face staggering increases in taxes went unheeded by most county commissions. Gov. Kirk made the first moves to recognize the problem; Gov. Reubin Askew changed the flood control districts into water management districts and required all governmental meetings to be in the "sunshine." Gov. Askew appointed numerous commissions on which I served to study solutions to growth, pollution, preservation of land, you name it. The first comprehensive planning act was passed under him. Lobbyists did their best to eviscerate it, and it had far too many loopholes, but at least it was a start. Gov. Bob Graham passed major comprehensive land use reform, and I thought that Florida might strike a course for sane growth management. I was wrong. Avarice and greed keep winning! Yet, we ought to be thankful that the law requires every city and county to prepare a comprehensive land use plan, to involve the public in all land use decisions, to update their plans and to have them reviewed by the Department of Community Affairs. Still, the state comprehensive planning effort rests on the will of elected officials to make the tough decisions, and the great promise of continued citizen involvement has not been achieved. Unless a project is in your back yard, it is difficult to recruit a team to oppose some senseless decision. So we struggle along waiting for the inevitable series of wet hurricanes to flood South Florida and initiate the great blaming game. The lives, the homes, the futures of so many Floridians are tied to the once-consistent pattern of hurricanes. It is a cruel stroke of fate that during the 40 years of the most explosive growth that any state save California has seen, Florida has been the recipient of an oddly long period of a "quiet" Atlantic. This era will come to an end with vengeance. Ten years ago, a group of close friends in government who all had a hand in the passage of the state's growth manage ment act and who were deeply concerned about the continuing trends of uncontrolled, ill-planned growth met and formed 1000 Friends of Florida. I was elected president. We started from scratch with a great, tiny staff of land use experts and an outstanding lawyer. We have fought battles all over this state. We select only issues of statewide importance but give assistance to those backyard issues that mean so much to so many. We have limited means. If it were not for the generosity of a long list of friends, the recognition by some of America's most important foundations that 1000 Friends is the only watchdog the comprehensive planning act has and that many keen observers believe that the act is the last great hope of Florida, we could not survive. The die is cast. Palm Beach County is going to join the megalopolis of South Florida. I wish it weren't true, but your county commissioners have made the decision that growth is inevitable. The only question now is whether we have the sense, vision and determination to make countless new developments into well-conceived, well-built, well-managed communities that do not overtax the limited water supply or needlessly pollute the rivers and ocean. We must champion the preservation of the greenways and unique areas that are the last reminders of the Eden of my youth. I beg people to say "Enough is enough; this is my community! I care about Florida it's my home! I care about what we leave for our children and grandchildren. If I can't stop growth, I can join the effort to manage growth." That is a mission worthy of everyone. t REED from IE Northern winters are coming to Florida. The wave 1,000 people per week during the 1980s has slowed; we are receiving only 800 people a week now! t As governor, now-Sen. Bob Graham tised to comment that the combination of Social Security, air conditioning and the jet plane made Florida so attractive that the walls of constraint collapsed under the desire to find a home in the sun. The drumbeat continues 865,000 m 1990, 1 million-plus in 1997, and, worst of all, Palm Beach County has added 650,000 residents since 1970, more than 23 other states. Estimates of land that is in preparation for development or slated for development will increase Palm Beach County's population to 1,375,000 in 2015. I How could we have gone from the "drain that swamp" mentality of the 1930s, '40s, '50s, even '60s, and still permit drainage of low land in northwestern Palm Beach County when everybody knows that the homes built on them will be flooded after even a mild hurricane? 4 ! How can we, having ended the land .scam era in the 1960s, tolerate the land scam that the Palm Beach County commissioners have allowed if not encouraged along State Road 7, as exposed in The Palm Beach Post? The worst blunder ever made was in the design and development of the Central and Southern Florida Flood Control District. It was created in 1948, after a series of devastating hurricanes flooded South Florida for months, stopping all development and agriculture. The drumbeat was: I 1 If L0REN G. HOSACKStaff Photographer Nat Reed: How can we continue to tolerate land scams in our state? Tame the Everglades. B Protect the coastal communities. Drain the vacant land between the coast and an imaginary line delineating the easternmost Everglades "swamp." The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was given the responsibility of designing the second-largest public works project in our nation's history second only to the Panama Canal. Thousands of miles of levees, canals and ditches and hundreds of pumps, four of which are the largest in the world, were designed and placed to 1

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