Skip to main content.

Back to: >> Editorial


All things nuclear must be under the tightest international control. The only justifiable reason for maintaining a stock of nuclear bombs is to deflect or destroy bolides, comets, or stray asteroids before they impact earth. Otherwise, the very future of humankind is at stake.

Albert Einstein had it basically right (What else is new?) when he wrote:

Einstein's Solution

"The secret of the bomb should be committed to a world government.... Do I fear the tyranny of a world government? Of course I do. But I fear still more the coming of another war or wars. Any government is certain to be evil to some extent. But a world government is preferable to the far greater evil of wars."

"...Since I do not foresee that atomic energy is to be a great boon for a long time, I have to say that for the present it is a menace. Perhaps it is good that it is so. It may intimidate the human race into bringing order into its international affairs, which, without the pressure of fear, it would not do." Albert Einstein The Atlantic Monthly, Nov 1945

Einstein was optimistic about the fear part. Lust for power is too often blind to rational fears. It may take a nuclear attack by terrorists to instill enough fear into the leaders of nations, the US in particular, to yield the small amount of sovereignty needed to put all things nuclear under international control. Are the neoconservatives up to it? Hardly; the opposite is much more likely.

What can we do? Once committed:

  • We can research the situation to convince ourselves that " Albert" was/is right.
  • We can set the goal that all things nuclear be under the control of an improved international system fully capable of managing all things nuclear effectively and safely.
  • We can become activists for "Albert's Solution" above individually and collectively.

Of course the Devil is in the details. Some pieces of the practical problems follow:

  • All Mining for ore must be licensed and controlled by an international organization. So also for all winning and refining of uranium. Each must be under constant remote surveillance with physical and paper audits frequent enough to prevent cheating.
  • All nuclear reactors must be licensed and strictly controlled by the an international organization. So also for Isotope Separations
  • Stockpiles must also be licensed, controlled and guarded by an international organization.
  • Building a nuclear bomb requires a supply of
    Uranium 235
    from natural isotope separations or Plutonium 239 separated from nuclear reactor operatons. These materials must be kept under heavy guard as they are extremely dangerous to handle as well as being fuel for nuclear arsenals. All nuclear fuels can be detected from short distances even through metal unless the shielding is extremely dense or thick. Building a bomb from refined materials is easier to hide than mining, extracting, and refining the fissionable materials needed. Nuclear reactors are the most common source of fissionable material. Plutonium also has Toxic Effects.
  • Nuclear weapon thefts remain a serious threat, and there has been one such unconfirmed report. It is not known how well the Russian, Pakistani, and Indian weapons are secured. Most nuclear powers keep their weapons well guarded and use special codes (kept secret) to arm them. Nevertheless, nuclear material has been stolen several times and indeed has been found abandoned in the wild after Soviet military exercises.
  • Leaking of nuclear information has already happened. Pakistan has become a proliferator of nuclear technology before any basic protections are in place. Of the muslim nations, only Libya seems inclined to limit proliferation.
  • Nuclear weapon developments anywhere have never been and are not now published. They remain state secrets. Such nationalism, imperialism, and extremism are not consistent with a peace process involving truly effective nuclear controls.
  • Isotope dispersions use poisonous isotopes; there are many, and when scattered over cities and farms can cause major disruptions as Chernobyl demonstrated. They are dangerous to handle and require significant shielding. Isotopes have legitimate uses in scientific research as well as in medicine and similar applications. Threats from contamination may be greater than any from nuclear explosives in the near future.
  • Nuclear waste dumps are not well guarded and may be easy to disperse through terrorist actions. Since handling waste is highly dangerous and requires great care, the most likely terror tactic here is to blow up an existing nuclear waste depot in a densely populated area. Radioactive material is scattered to the four winds.
  • Destruction of a land-based nuclear reactor could be done in several ways. The breaching of the massive containment vessel would be a challenge even though the vessels were not designed with Kamikaze-type attacks in mind. The accidental Chernobyl power plant explosion is a type example of what this could mean.
  • Sabotaging nuclear plants could be done by highly trained terrorists piercing their perimeters and planting explosives. Nuclear plants vary in their degrees of vulnerability. The chances of a terrorist takeover to create a reactor meltdown would be countered in the end by the containment structure, designed for that eventuality. Nuclear reactor operator training is not available on the open market, like pilot training. But it might not be needed.
  • Destruction of a nuclear-powered ocean-going vessel. In deep water, destroying such vessels would lead to little or no atmospheric dispersion of radioactive elements. The destroyer Cole is a case in point for what could happen in port. Seafaring nations are particularly vulnerable. Most nuclear vessels are military and are commonly more on the alert with more defenses than is possible with commercial ships. But many have been lost, some under mysterious circumstances.

We may have much less time than we think. Extremists (and fundamentalists) in power, formally elected, by inheritance, sub-national religious or secular groups, or by coup d tat, are the basic threats. Moving the world to such a solution can not be the work of any one four-year administration in Washington. It will take a generation or more to institute effective nuclear controls. Until international controls become effective, the future of humanity remains very much in doubt.

For the latest on nuclear developments see:
Global Partnership Against Spread of Nuclear Weapons
International Atomic Energy Agency
Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces
Transparency in Nuclear Warheads and Materials
For a personal update on Chernobyl see: Ghost Town.

Lest we forget: Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Decision.

Meanwhile, we may find temporary comfort in:

  • the fact that conventional explosive, chemical, and biological weapons are much easier and cheaper to deploy.
  • the fact that no nuclear power is actively brandishing its sabers; this may be small comfort considering how poor our intelligence is.
  • the fact that we still have a voice in these matters. Or do we?


No comments yet

To be able to post comments, please register on the site.