Nuclear Terrorism and Einstein's Arc of History; Science Is Soon to Deploy Measures to Prevent a Long-Predicted Catastrophe

By Rabin, Stuart J.; Waller, David B. | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 20, 2013 | Go to article overview

Nuclear Terrorism and Einstein's Arc of History; Science Is Soon to Deploy Measures to Prevent a Long-Predicted Catastrophe


Rabin, Stuart J., Waller, David B., The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Byline: Stuart J. Rabin and David B. Waller, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Albert Einstein's historic August 1939 letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt warned that Nazi Germany was likely to exploit scientific discoveries that could initiate a nuclear chain reaction in a large mass of uranium, by which vast amounts of power would be generated. Einstein ominously warned of extremely powerful bombs that might be carried by a boat and exploded in a port and that could destroy the whole port together with some of the surrounding territory. His call for urgent action led, of course, to the Manhattan Project, the creation of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and development of the atomic bomb.

Now, more than seven decades on - in this age of terrorism by rogue and non-state actors - we have no less cause for alarm.

Nuclear terrorism - by the detonation of a nuclear device smuggled into our country - is widely recognized to be not only plausible, but also probable. Security experts warn that there is more than sufficient unaccounted for fissile material to construct numerous devices. Presidents Obama and George W. Bush both have warned of the attempts by terrorist groups to acquire nuclear components.

The consequences of even a single act of radiological or nuclear terrorism in a major American city could be far worse than predicted in Einstein's prescient letter. Consider the crushing impact had the Tsarnaev brothers utilized not a pressure cooker as an explosive device, but instead a radiation-dispersal device dirty bomb ). Moreover, last fall's Superstorm Sandy so vividly reminded us of the massive destruction that can be dealt - even under circumstances where the threat is well-anticipated and tracked, and responsible citizenry, together with relevant federal, state and local authorities have taken extensive precautionary measures. A terrorist detonation of a nuclear weapon, in stark contrast, would likely come without warning and with no opportunity to prepare or evacuate. The loss of life, incalculable human suffering, sense of vulnerability, economic devastation and breakdown in social order would be nothing short of catastrophic. It could make the Boston Marathon bombing and even Sandy's devastation look like child's play.

Ironically, our greatest vulnerability to these threats remains through the same maritime shipping ports of which Einstein wrote - through which millions of cargo containers or other conveyances enter our nation each year. As three members of Congress wrote: Cargo containers arriving on ships from foreign ports offer terrorists a Trojan horse for a devastating attack on the United States. Quoting Harvard University national-security analyst Graham Allison, they noted that a nuclear attack is far more likely to arrive in a cargo container than on the tip of a missile. …

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