I had to laugh yesterday when I read this article in USA Today: Nuclear blast victims would have to wait
The White House has warned state and local governments not to expect a “significant federal response” at the scene of a terrorist nuclear attack for 24 to 72 hours after the blast, according to a planning guide.
President Obama told delegates from 47 nations at the Nuclear Security Summit on Tuesday that it would be a “catastrophe for the world” if al-Qaeda or another terrorist group got a nuclear device, because so many lives would be lost and it would be so hard to mitigate damage from the blast.
A 10-kiloton nuclear explosion would level buildings within half a mile of ground zero, generate 900-mph winds, bathe the landscape with radiation and produce a plume of fallout that would drift for hundreds of miles, the guide says.
Well that would certainly make Hurricane Katrina look like a walk in the park, now wouldn’t it? It’s nice to know that I’ll be on my own if a nuke goes off somewhere around here. According to Irwin Redlener of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, an “expert” quoted in the above article, local governments won’t be much help either.
“There isn’t a single American city, in my estimation, that has sufficient plans for a nuclear terrorist event”….
The message for families is simple, he says: Stay put. Wait for instructions. If you’ve been outside, dust off, change, shower. “What citizens need to know fits on a wallet-sized card,”
Oh. Okay, I’ll keep that in mind. Thanks, pal.
The Homeland Security planning guide is posted here (PDF) if you want to take a look.
Okay, so we’re completely unprepared for nuclear terrorism. But how big a threat is this anyway? This article lists “5 scary scenarios” for what we could be facing. This one is my personal favorite:
Terrorists attack a nuclear facility: After the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, U.S. officials admitted they had never considered the prospect of an attack using commercial airliners on nuclear facilities. Now the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says the nation’s nuclear power plants are secure from attack, but at least one former intelligence official claims that’s not the case. Charles Faddis, a retired CIA official who reviewed nuclear plant security around the country, recently concluded that the facilities were woefully unprepared for a terrorist attack. “A full-scale meltdown of a major reactor would be catastrophic,” he warned. “Such an incident at the Indian Point Plant in New York state, for instance, would likely render large parts of the metropolitan New York City area uninhabitable for decades and likely kill tens of thousands.”
Great. The terrorists wouldn’t even need any plutonium–just airplanes. But what is the real risk of terrorists getting their hands on fissionable material and setting off a homemade or stolen bomb? According to William Pfaff:
As for the threat that President Obama described in calling this meeting, that terrorists would obtain nuclear weapons, this seems to me extremely unlikely, if only because no government possessing these weapons would imagine giving such power to terrorists, or allowing weapons to be stolen. The world would hold them, not the terrorists responsible for what followed, and they would themselves become the victim of retaliation.
The Christian Science Monitor says there is a lot of “loose nuclear material” around the world.
The nations of the world together have about 1.6 million kilograms of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and about 500,000 kilograms of plutonium, according to data compiled by Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Security….
Fissile material is held at hundreds of locations, with varying levels of security. There are more than 130 research reactors alone that are powered by HEU, some of them in developing or transitional countries, notes the Belfer Center.
Vietnam, for instance, has at least 5 kilograms of HEU, according to a list compiled by the Institute for Science and International Security. Jamaica has a kilogram. So does Ghana.
Okay, that’s pretty creepy. I don’t know why I’m not more terrified. Maybe it’s because there really isn’t anything I can do to keep from being blown up by a terrorist nuke. And I don’t have a lot of faith in the U.S. government doing a lot to prevent it either.
You know, I can tell you some things that seem a lot more terrifying to me than these far-fetched nuclear scenarios:
How about this?
Economic recovery will do little to bring down unemployment rates in Europe, the United States and other developed countries for nearly two more years, the International Monetary Fund projected Wednesday in a report that highlighted the lingering challenges of the worst recession in decades.
Releasing what IMF officials called a “somber” forecast, the agency said government stimulus and other policies remain needed to offset slow private job creation — evidence of the dilemma policymakers face as they decide whether trimming high government deficits outweighs the risk of undermining employment even further if public programs are cut.
On Wednesday, a congressional watchdog panel criticized the foreclosure-prevention program’s progress in a report, saying the Treasury is still struggling to get its program off the ground. It also warned that many households that are helped in the short-term may default again later.
The Obama administration has argued that HAMP is working. But the number of people being helped is “modest” in comparison with the scale of the problem, said Elizabeth Warren, the panel’s chairwoman. She conceded, however, that it was unclear how many foreclosures the government should try to prevent, given that many households are in homes that they can’t afford.
Even after HAMP modifications, many borrowers struggle with their overall debt loads, including car loans and credit-card bills. The median share of gross income devoted to debt payments is 61% for people who have had HAMP modifications, the Treasury said.
The Congressional Oversight Panel, which was tasked with evaluating the federal foreclosure mitigation program, has found that the Making Home Affordable plan has done little to help individual homeowners and, in many cases, has just prolonged their pain….
…the panel says that the program’s results demonstrate that reducing mortgage payments is not a sufficient solution for many homeowners. Even after securing loan modifications — which fewer than 200,000 families have done, at last count — large numbers of homeowners are still struggling to make payments. Meanwhile, if a house was under water before the modification, it will still be under water after a modification, assuming the outstanding principal on the loan is not reduced.
So why is the Obama administration so busy hyping nuclear terrorism when the Congress can’t even pass an unemployment benefits extension?
If the Democratic party has any chance of staunching a bloodbath in the 2010 midterm elections, it needs to show voters signs of an improving economy. Specifically, it needs falling unemployment and some significant job creation. But according to the International Monetary Fund, that’s not going to happen any time soon – and certainly not before November.