Christian Long

Irwin Redlener: Warns of Nuclear Terrorism

In TED Talks on April 18, 2010 at 7:48 pm

Reflection by ALEX C.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Irwin Redlener:  Warns of Nuclear Terrorism

In Irwin Redlener’s presentation, he talks about the most deadly weapon ever created. The nuclear weapon is something that many have had to live in fear of during the Cold War. Fortunately the Cold War is over, but that does not mean that Earth is safe from being destroyed.

Redlener asked, “Can we permanently eliminate the nuclear threat?”

Here is a little history re-cap to remind you of how the world has lived in fear of a full scale nuclear war. In 1945 the United States became the only power to have nuclear bombs, two of which were dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In total the two bombs killed a total of 250,000 people. The Soviet Union thought that it was unacceptable that the US was the only country to posses such a weapon. By 1949 the Soviet Union was producing its own nuclear bombs.

Between 1949 and 1985 the world had a total of 65,000 nuclear bombs, enough to destroy the Earth many many many times over. There were 7 members of the nuclear club. 95% of the nuclear bombs were in the US and the Soviet Union. Fortunately when the Soviet Union fell apart the nuclear bombs began to be decommissioned. We now have 21,000 nuclear bombs in the world, but the bombs that were decommissioned can still be recommissioned. 21,000 bombs is still enough to destroy the Earth many times over.

During his presentation Mr. Redlener presented the nuclear threat story that happens in two chapters. In Chapter I (1949-1991) the superpowers began a nuclear arms race. It was nation versus nation in a fragile stand off. The Earth was on the brink of planetary calamity. Both countries were dependent on a theory called Mutually Assured Destruction (M.A.D) The theory meant that if one country started bombing the other then the other would start bombing the other back. The big problem about this is that if there were to be a misreading on a radar then that would lead to the country that misread the radar to start bombing the other and then the other would bomb them back.

During the Cold War, when the world lived in fear of nuclear war, there were a few protocols to take in case of a bombing. There was a popular commercial of Bert the turtle teaching the kids how to duck and cover. It was recommended that you build a fallout shelter in the basement or you could buy a bomb shelter and bury it in the ground. The ironic part is that only 1.4% actually bought or made a bomb shelter. There were nuclear signs posted on the side of buildings where someone could take shelter in case of a nuclear attack. Fema had a crisis relocation plan, but it was useless. Their plan would only work if there were 3 to 4 days notice before the bombing took place.

In Chapter II there is no longer a threat of a nuclear attack, but rather a single nuclear attack by terrorists. There are four key ingredients to fuel this threat.
1. The global nuclear weapons stockpile is not secure and fissionable material is relatively available. The global stockpile of highly enriched uranium (HEU) is 1,300 to 2,100 metric tons. More than 100 mega tons are stored in relatively insecure facilities.

How much HEU do you need to make a 10 kiloton bomb? You need about 8 soda cans worth or HEU to make the Hiroshima bomb. You only need plutonium the size of a cabbage to make the Nagasaki bomb.

2. The nuclear “know how” is accessible. There are books about how to make a nuclear bomb. There are plans on how to make a terror farm to make all the supplies to make a nuclear bomb and Mr. Redlener believes that someone only needs an undergrad knowledge in physics to be able to use these plans.

3. Evil doers are organized, dedicated, “stateless”, and “retaliation proof.” By stateless Mr. Redlener means that if terrorists were to attack the US we would not be able to lash out at them. We wouldn’t know what country to bomb because terrorists are not associated with governments, thus we can not retaliate. If we do retaliate against the right people it will not affect the terrorist, they don’t care they would give their lives for their own cause.

“We should have the right to kill 4 million Americans, 2 million of whom should be children…” Sulameid Abu Cheith lieutenant to Osama Bin Laden.

4. The high value US targets are accessible, soft, and plentiful. 7,000,000 cargo crates come into the US every year and only 5% are inspected. In 1997 84 out of 132 suitcase bombs could not be accounted for, in Russia. Someone could rent a truck for $50 to transport a bomb the size of the Hiroshima bomb, which was about 9 feet long.

After explaining the four ingredients to make a nuclear terror threat Mr. Redlener showed a computer simulation of a to kiloton bomb detonating in the middle of Manhattan. All he had to do was drive his rent a truck to the middle of Manhattan to get it into the right place. What this bomb does is incredible and horrific:

  • 90% of people within a half mile radius will die.
  • 50% of the people within a 2 mile radius will die. 10% within a 8 mile radius will die.

Luckily Mr. Redlener has 7 key procedures that we can lower the amount of people that die.

1. Avoid staring at the light, because you will go blind temporarily or permanently, and keep your mouth open to avoid letting your eardrums burst from the pressure.

2. Duck and cover if you are close to the detonating site.

3. Get away from the fallout mushroom cloud which contains all of nuclear material that could kill you. You have 10 to 20 min before the fallout cloud finally comes back down. Or you can take shelter in an underground basement or stay in the tenth or higher floor of a building.

4. Move downwind or crosswind for 1.2 miles (away from the area with building damage.

5. Try to keep skin, mouth, and nose covered if it doesn’t impede evacuation or sheltering.

6. Decontaminate ASAP. Wash your clothes and body.

7. If you are in shelter, stay in shelter for 48-72 hours.

With Mr. Redlener’s advice surviving a nuke is not futile. We can reduce the death toll during a nuke if we know what to do, but also the government should take more steps to protecting major cities.

In 2008, no American city has developed effective plans to deal with a nuclear detonation.

Maybe it is time to try to make our cities safe, but what the government should do is abolish all nuclear weapons.


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