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Iran and Nuclear Proliferation, Nobody Gave Us The Bomb

Politics / GeoPolitics Aug 23, 2010 - 07:11 AM GMT

By: Andrew_McKillop


Best Financial Markets Analysis ArticleThe Internet, the press and media, and leading politicians bristle with trenchant prose on the dangers of atomic weapons proliferation and how it can be stopped dead in its tracks. In the extreme case of Iran's suspected "double track" approach using civil nuclear technology to make a bomb while pretending it doesn't want the bomb, the extreme solution to make Iran "come clean" includes simply bombing all of its nuclear installations. To some this is a practical and real option, whatever the horrendous civilian "collateral damage" - and the impact on oil prices.

Here we can note that the USA's first two atom bombs, used against Japan, killed a total of about 150 000 to 200 000 persons, about 98% of them civilians. The Haiti earthquake of Jan 2010 killed at least 275 000 civilians, with scarcely a murmur from the "guardians of public opinion" in the media and press.

Behind the war of words on nuclear proliferation lurks the old, but strong belief that only a few "leading hi-tech nations" can make a functional nuclear fission explosive device, and the Nuclear Club is claimed to still be almost intact, even today. The club is very selective and restricted, in fact almost "invitation only".

Any nation outside the core competence nuclear powers - USA, Russia, UK, France and China - can only get into the club, and get the bomb, by stealing or buying the needed "atom secrets". Still today, authors of mass market sleuth story offerings work this creaky 50-year-old lode of socalled "atom secrets". They lard their offerings with tales of how sly but arrogant new entrant countries use sexy spies, organized crime syndicates, corrupt deciders, greedy industrialists and mad or evil scientists to first get hold of the "atom secrets", then the hi-tech gadgets, and throw them all together "with a few scremdriver turns" to make their bomb. Only thanks to these secrets held by the Nuclear Club, can inferior and poorer nations get the bomb, but with these "atom secrets" almost anybody can make the bomb in their garage, with just a couple of screwdriver turns.

The obligatory real world Bad Boy role model for this is Dr A Q Khan, AKA "Bombs R Us" , Pakistan's dreaded Father of the Islamic Bomb. With the right creative storytelling, Khan becomes almost as legendarily evil and slyly treacherous as Bin Laden - who was showered with hi-tech gadgets like Stinger anti-aircraft weapons, by the USA, when he led the heroic fight against Soviet foreign troops occupying and oppressing Afghanistan.

The Khan story goes on by saying that Dr A.Q. was totally incapable of making an atom bomb himself, only treachery enabled him to do it. Only by stealing "atom secrets" from the USA, and perhaps other core competence countries was it possible for him, or any other non-Western person from a lower-tech and poorer country, to make a functional bomb.

A totally opposite theory about atomic bomb making is that nuclear physicists, weapons research experts, industrial engineers and their enablers and bosses in government have been able to Do It Themselves for a minimum of 45 years. For at least 45 years.

The industrial tech requirements for a rustic but effective atom bomb, vastly more sophisticated than the US Manhattan Project atom bomb of 1941-1945, are available at the level of the automobile, rather than aerospace industry. Upstream needs include nuclear science know-how that exists worldwide since the 1930s. Even further upstream, the scientific concept of the biggest possible nuclear Big Bangs - supernovae - dates back nearly 90 years to the early 1920s, and was heavily dominated at its beginnings by the Indian scientist Bose.

Atomic bombmaking dates from a long time before colour TV and pop-up toasters. It dates from an era in which the US automobile industry - a prime source of industrial technology for the Manhattan project engineers working under Entico Fermi to make the USA's first bomb - was still heavily using wood, animal skins, cat gut, vegetable glues, cast iron, piano wire, tin smithing and a large range of other very artisanal raw materials and old-time handicraft techniques. Fermi's first reactor of a few kiloWatts power, spewing radiation on the workers and engineers around it would surely have only won a contemptuous smirk from Dr A Q Khan, 35 years ago in 1975. His own "Manhattan Project" certainly took longer than Fermi's 4-year race to produce the bombs for wiping out two hundred thousand Japanese civilians, and took about 12 years, but Khan's A-bombs were vastly more sophisticated and more efficient than the original and rustic US versions.

The "early core" bomb competent countries, the USA and the other 4 members of the UN Security Council (Russia, UK, China, France) all reached the status of bomb capable, and wasted no time at all translating that to industrial scale atomic weapons making, from the late 1940s and through the 1950s. All of these countries can - and they certainly do - argue they did not need to steal "atom secrets" from anybody at all, even if facts say the contrary. They always claim they already had everything that was needed to build their very own national bombs, from scratch.

For our average spy thriller writer and TV docu-drama producer the clock has to stop not long after this period, ending about 1965. If we were locked in a 1965-vintage time and technology warp, we could defend the "atom secrets" story line, and could claim that only the highly select members of The Nuclear Club are "bomb capable".

Certainly since the 1960s, however, the nuclear cat is far outside the bag, on-line thanks to hundreds of Web sites, and freely roaming the conference circuit worldwide. Our spy thriller writer chums, or chumps are obliged to argue that science and technology "somehow stopped dead" about 1965 ! Simply taking Information Tech, this was almost non-existent in 1965: the computing power of an IT notebook today, for example, needed a 3-story airconditioned building, weighed dozens of tons and needed a hundred kiloWatts of electric power, in 1965. In the real world and however, for well over 40 years, making a fission bomb no longer requires any special art of spying and no special help from the Men in Black. The story of bomb proliferation has migrated a long way from James Bond spy thrillers.

The original "atom secrets" are in fact antique - they exist for more than 70 years. The inventors and discoverers of the technical, industrial and engineering processes and techniques needed to physically make a bomb have worked and experimented in literally dozens of countries outside the "core competence group", for more than a half century. The US Fat Boy bomb tech of 65 years ago was artisanal and antique, so Low Tech it has no interest at all for Iran's bomb engineers of today, or those in the coming string of "new nuclear" countries who will be Bomb Enabled by the The Nuclear Renaissance of 2010-2020. Their scientists and engineers, who are now often home trained for at least two generations, can leave 70-year-old "atom secrets" for their kids to read about in 50-yearold Cold War vintage comic books - if their kids have the time.

In the real world of today, making an atom bomb is no longer an epic science and technology challenge - but a political decision to apply almost instantly available know-how based on science knowledge that dates back as far as 75 years. Due to the so-called Nuclear Renaissance, with as many as 200 - 250 new large sized civil power reactors slated to be built through 2010-2020 - most of them in Emerging and Developing countries - nuclear prolieration of massive Dirty Bomb potential targets has gone into extreme high gear.

By Andrew McKillop

Project Director, GSO Consulting Associates

Former chief policy analyst, Division A Policy, DG XVII Energy, European Commission. Andrew McKillop Biographic Highlights

© 2010 Copyright Andrew McKillop - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisors.

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