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Response to nuclear attack through proxy ?

This is a discussion on Response to nuclear attack through proxy ? within the Missiles & WMDs forum, part of the Global Defense & Military category; What would the response be if one of the "usual suspects" Iran/north korea sold or gave nuclear weapons to a ...


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Old April 13th, 2010   #1
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Response to nuclear attack through proxy ?

What would the response be if one of the "usual suspects" Iran/north korea sold or gave nuclear weapons to a terrorist organisation who then smuggles them into a few cities and detonate them ?
Would it be treated as if the countries had done the attack themselves ?
If a bomb/bomb making material gets stolen/lost because of neglect and then used in a terror attack what would the consequences be for the country who lost them ?
Would the response differ depending on who was attacked ? (Usa, China; Russia, Israel, A Nato country without wmds,, a neutral country)
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Old April 15th, 2010   #2
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I guess whoever can be identified responsible including sellers, brokers, buyers - the guys who closed the eyes to let it happen, whoever can be identified, there will be an effort to bring them to justice. The important though is to prevent this through proactive measures which is something POTUS Obama's recent summit was all about
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Old April 15th, 2010   #3
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You can trace enriched uranium/plutonium back to its source. If this happened to say boston or LA or New Orleans or what have you i can almost guarante who ever the president is a immediate nuclear attack on whoever is responsible. To not do so would mean lossing the elections in this country for more than a generation and potentialy causeing massive internal instability.
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Old April 16th, 2010   #4
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I seriously doubt a nuclear attack by terrorists would mean immediate nuclear reprisals. It wouldn't look good. You'd be massacring third world civilians for the crimes committed by their governments. That's practically a form of state terrorism.
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Old April 16th, 2010   #5
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I seriously doubt a nuclear attack by terrorists would mean immediate nuclear reprisals. It wouldn't look good. You'd be massacring third world civilians for the crimes committed by their governments. That's practically a form of state terrorism.
No offense but if a nuke were used on American soil specificaly against civilians i wouldnt care nore i think would most people. After 911 i heard probably they majority ask why we didnt just nuke them.

If you didnt nuke them if a terrorist organization had another one it would use it again. I f we didnt we would be seen as weak.

How many ME countries would harbor terrorist organizations or further support them if they new they would face such actions?

As for the Norks well let me put it to you this way.

Mod edit: Text deleted. One is not required to like other nations. However, here at DT one is required to be respectful about other nations and cultures as well as not posting inflammatory comments. Advocating a nuclear attack upon the capital of another nation, or that such an action would be an improvement, qualifies as inflammatory.
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Old April 17th, 2010   #6
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No offense but if a nuke were used on American soil specificaly against civilians i wouldnt care nore i think would most people. After 911 i heard probably they majority ask why we didnt just nuke them.

If you didnt nuke them if a terrorist organization had another one it would use it again. I f we didnt we would be seen as weak.

How many ME countries would harbor terrorist organizations or further support them if they new they would face such actions?

As for the Norks well let me put it to you this way.

The capital city (which is what would get hit) is full of people who are probably some of the most zenophobic and racist people you will find. They have been taught that they are a pure race and need to maintain that. That the entire world is against them.(sound familiar)

Couple stories.

One was about a cuban diplomate walking around the capital with his family he was half black. They had to be rescued before the crowd of there "allies" attempted to lynch them. They threatened there racial purity.

Also when the North koreans come back from the chinese border the women if found pregnant are forces to have abortions. This is with there "allies" again. This is also the government that constantly threatens war with well...............everyone and starves its own citizens even though it gets all that money and cash and fuel.

Seriously, the average north korean is 5 in shorter than there southern cousins. Most of the populace lives in conditions that wouldnt look out of place from 100 yrs ago.

Killing the capital would probably be a god send.
A nuclear attack by a non-state actor on U.S. soil would most likely be shrouded in such confusion as to make a quick response very difficult. It would also be difficult to prove that the device was willingly given to an organization by a government. Can any of us imagine the backlash against the U.S. if it nukes hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians as a reprisal...only to later discover that the now-thoroughly irradiated foreign government did not take part in any nuclear proliferation? Would we nuke Pakistan if a single rogue general found a way to supply a group with a warhead? Probably not, and that is a picture similar to the one that would probably develop in the days following such an attack on U.S. soil. There are so many questions and complications when non-state actors are involved.

It would however, be lights-out for any designated terrorist organization in the world. We saw several organizations simply disband after 9/11 for fear of the beefed-up anti-terror effort that everyone knew was coming. Many believe that it was the post-9/11 world situation that spelled the end for the LTTE in Sri Lanka. I imagine a nuclear attack would be, in the long term, a very disadvantages move for a terror organization. I for one am highly skeptical that most groups would use a nuclear weapon even if they had the chance. But that's perhaps for another thread.

But I don't think that a nuclear attack anywhere on the globe would be a "god send." Nor is the murder of starving people in any way more morally justified or less of an abomination.
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Old April 17th, 2010   #7
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What would the response be if one of the "usual suspects" Iran/north korea sold or gave nuclear weapons to a terrorist organisation who then smuggles them into a few cities and detonate them ?

Would it be treated as if the countries had done the attack themselves ?
First of all Iran doesn’t have the bomb.

There is no simple answer to it. It will depend on the decision makers and nuclear Command and Control (C2) of the state. My opinion is that if a state is involved then terrorist can be viewed as a "Human Warhead" or what ever terminology you want to use. That would mean that the state has carried out the nuclear strike and does qualify for a nuclear retaliation. If the Non State Actors (NSA) have acted on their own then several things have to be evaluated:

i. In which state the NSA are situated

ii. Does it enjoy the support of the state

iii. If the state where terrorists exist, does not support them then is there any 4th state or party involved.

iv. Do the states where terrorists are situated or from the one they receive support from posses WMDs

v. What is the capability (military, political and economical) of both the states as well as the terrorists (can they carry similar strike again?)

vi. Relationship between the two states

If the NSAs carried out the strike on their own then following actions are forseeable:

i. International pressure on the state where terrorists are situated to smoke them out and take lethal action.

ii. Military strikes (maybe of international forces) on 4th state or party harboring support to terrorists. Surgical or massive conventional strikes can be carried on its nuclear facilities, regime can be overthrown, send it back to Stone Age etc… However, for the state on which WMD strike has been carried out it may become imperative for its decision makers to carry out a nuclear strike since the deterrent thresholds have been breached. If it doesn’t then other suicidal states in future may attempt similar actions again.

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If a bomb/bomb making material gets stolen/lost because of neglect and then used in a terror attack what would the consequences be for the country who lost them?
Bombing making material, usually referred to as fissile material, is of NO use to terrorists. In principle two types of fissile materials are used for the making of nuclear weapons. One is Uranium and the other is Plutonium, both have their own inherent natural as well as manned security features.

i. Uranium

Uranium (U) found in nature has an isotopic composition of U238 and is 8th hardest metal in the world. In essence U238 does not qualify as fissile material. It is non-implosive and radiation emission is minimum. Only U235 can make the bomb. U235 is separated from U238 - enriched to 90% (90% makes it weapons grade material - referred to as Highly Enriched Uranium or HEU). This requires large number of centrifuges - in hundreds and thousands. Centrifuges are one of the most sophisticated technologies and not easy to construct.

So, if a terrorist somehow gets U238 (uranium ore) the best he can do is throw this metallic-rockish ore at high profile target and injure him. A head injury might kill the target but hurling uranium ore hardly qualifies as a WMD attack. Uranium can be handled with regular industrial means but terrorists will need to enrich the uranium to U235. The question are Where will they get enrichment facility and centrifuges? and How will they operate it on their own? It technologically impossible.

The U235 is found in reactors. Terrorists lack capability to extract it from the reactors and further the reactors are kept in highly secured multi-layered facilities. In addition the enriched uranium is quite radioactive and naked exposure to it can and usually does develop cancer in the human body.

Terrorists can acquire an insider help but that too will be worthless attempt. Different scientists and engineers have different responsibilities. How would they get hold of the right person? and how will that right person manage to extract uranium and take it out of the facility and manage to avoid cameras, security personnel and his own colleagues? If multiple people are involved then the word is doomed to get out as intelligence within and surrounding the facilities is very strong.

How would the terrorist be able to attack a nuclear facility? You expect them to come in their pick up trucks, jump off, crash the gate and take whatever they want? While the entire security is on the leave (sarcasm). Its not just the nuclear facilities are secured but surrounding areas as well, in miles and kilometers. Any terrorist attempt to attack will be intercepted even before facility is visible to terrorists.

ii. Plutonium

Plutonium (Pu) is the bi-product of Uranium. It is man made element (meaning not found in nature). Isotopic composition of Pu239 is used for making of nuclear bombs. Smaller quantity of Pu239 can create greater explosion then uranium of same or bit greater size. Production of Pu is very painstaking and lengthy. Uranium fuel rods are put through reprocessing where only fraction of uranium turns into plutonium. Pu is also found in nuclear waste and you have to separate it from all the other elements found in the waste.

In addition to it's production being virtually impossible for terrorists (same as u235) the issue is plutonium is highly toxic and any exposure to it will kill any living being instantly. It cannot be handled with regular industrial means either. Pu is always kept in special enclosed metallic compartments/boxes (made from beryllium I suppose) which reflect its alpha and gama rays back into the pit (if kept in warhead) or back to the fissile material (if in compartments). In compartments scientists and engineers use very thick rubber gloves to handle Pu and even then they can feel the heat emitting from it. A small quantity of Pu (depending on its composition) in a glass can warm up your room. You can try in winters but there will be no more winters for you after that day.

So you see it’s virtually or technologically impossible for a terrorist to gain fissile material and put it to good use. Only a state level assistance can help handle fissile material &/or make a nuclear bomb. That is why both fissile material and bomb only exist with governments till date.

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Would the response differ depending on who was attacked ? (Usa, China; Russia, Israel, A Nato country without wmds,, a neutral country)
As I said before it will depend on the decision maker (and note that every decision maker is a rational actor). I am of the view that states making nuclear doctrines, especially ones emphasizing on 2nd strike (they will only attack if enemy carries out nuclear attack on them 1st), and nuclear posture reviews are wasting their times and fooling others. If your country is conventionally weak, you lack strategic depth and your enemy has almost decimated you will you wait for your enemy to carryout 1st Strike? I don’t think so. Even if your country is conventionally strong with greater strategic depth you cannot wait out on your enemy if he puts you in a position where nuclear strike from either side is imminent.
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Old August 23rd, 2010   #8
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Most country would not be so sneaky when they attack our country. Though terriest do have a reputation of being sneacky. First we would look at all the country that have WMD, then we would look at the country that don't have them but are capable of making them. Then we would look at the country that have a history of being sellouts, like Russia, Iran, Irak, China, or Ukraine. Then we would look at the past history as to the location of past terrierest groups. Like Iran, Irak, and Russia. Then we would trace them back to past conflicks to more modern ones. Once thats done we would send troops in to nutralize the nuclear threat.
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Old August 29th, 2010   #9
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A nuclear attack by a non-state actor on U.S. soil would most likely be shrouded in such confusion as to make a quick response very difficult. It would also be difficult to prove that the device was willingly given to an organization by a government. Can any of us imagine the backlash against the U.S. if it nukes hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians as a reprisal...only to later discover that the now-thoroughly irradiated foreign government did not take part in any nuclear proliferation? Would we nuke Pakistan if a single rogue general found a way to supply a group with a warhead? Probably not, and that is a picture similar to the one that would probably develop in the days following such an attack on U.S. soil. There are so many questions and complications when non-state actors are involved.

It would however, be lights-out for any designated terrorist organization in the world. We saw several organizations simply disband after 9/11 for fear of the beefed-up anti-terror effort that everyone knew was coming. Many believe that it was the post-9/11 world situation that spelled the end for the LTTE in Sri Lanka. I imagine a nuclear attack would be, in the long term, a very disadvantages move for a terror organization. I for one am highly skeptical that most groups would use a nuclear weapon even if they had the chance. But that's perhaps for another thread.

But I don't think that a nuclear attack anywhere on the globe would be a "god send." Nor is the murder of starving people in any way more morally justified or less of an abomination.
Terrorits groups are hard to control almost by definitionso its very doubtful that N.Korea for the sake of argument would give control of ANY of their warheads to an organization outside of their military (Kim might not be totally there mentally but no one is that far off their rocker). China would also condem an effort by N.K. as they know the source could be traced and would not want any return nuclear blasts as the cloud could drift across the border and make their citizens sick.

After 9/11 there were no increased nuclear stance at my base other than to get the USS Michigan back together and out of drydock ASAP. They didnt even tell the other crew (jackson blue was the ready boat when it happened) until they got back and we asked them if there were extra drills and they said what do you mean, what happened?

So back to the origional question answer : Gather information and figure out how it happened, and to would it be like they did it themselfs, no (unless they said they were the agents behind it and that it was the government of the country backing them wholey on their own.) (I can only speak for USA doctrine here from my limited information that I know, I'm not saying other countries response would be the same.)
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Old September 3rd, 2010   #10
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First of all Iran doesn’t have the bomb.
Iran is developing nuclear weapons in North Korea and has a team of scientists working with North Koreans. They are also working with Myanmar which is a supplier of Uranium to the triumvate. To the extent that North Korea succeeds in building bombs then Iran does have the bomb.


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Bombing making material, usually referred to as fissile material, is of NO use to terrorists.
I think the original question was what if Iran or North Korea developed the weapon and then provided it to a proxy agent like Al Queada?

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In principle two types of fissile materials are used for the making of nuclear weapons. One is Uranium and the other is Plutonium, both have their own inherent natural as well as manned security features.

i. Uranium

Uranium (U) found in nature has an isotopic composition of U238 and is 8th hardest metal in the world. In essence U238 does not qualify as fissile material. It is non-implosive and radiation emission is minimum. Only U235 can make the bomb. U235 is separated from U238 - enriched to 90% (90% makes it weapons grade material - referred to as Highly Enriched Uranium or HEU). This requires large number of centrifuges - in hundreds and thousands. Centrifuges are one of the most sophisticated technologies and not easy to construct.
Iran is moving to Laser enrichment which is significantly more efficient and cheaper than centrifuges.

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So, if a terrorist somehow gets U238 (uranium ore) the best he can do is throw this metallic-rockish ore at high profile target and injure him. A head injury might kill the target but hurling uranium ore hardly qualifies as a WMD attack. Uranium can be handled with regular industrial means but terrorists will need to enrich the uranium to U235. The question are Where will they get enrichment facility and centrifuges? and How will they operate it on their own? It technologically impossible.

The U235 is found in reactors. Terrorists lack capability to extract it from the reactors and further the reactors are kept in highly secured multi-layered facilities. In addition the enriched uranium is quite radioactive and naked exposure to it can and usually does develop cancer in the human body.

Terrorists can acquire an insider help but that too will be worthless attempt. Different scientists and engineers have different responsibilities. How would they get hold of the right person? and how will that right person manage to extract uranium and take it out of the facility and manage to avoid cameras, security personnel and his own colleagues? If multiple people are involved then the word is doomed to get out as intelligence within and surrounding the facilities is very strong.
Perhaps we are forgetting that three Pakistani nuclear scientists including A Q Khan were recruited by Al Quaeda to work with them in Afghanistan. Two of these scientists, Suleiman Asad and Mohammed Ali Mukhtar then fled to Myanmar and helped that country to develop a nuclear weapons project. Myanmar has since built a secret underground complex with a nearby runway which recieves regular flights from North Korea.

One could conjecture that Myanmar, also supports Islamic extremists in Thailand and Indonesia.

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How would the terrorist be able to attack a nuclear facility? You expect them to come in their pick up trucks, jump off, crash the gate and take whatever they want? While the entire security is on the leave (sarcasm). Its not just the nuclear facilities are secured but surrounding areas as well, in miles and kilometers. Any terrorist attempt to attack will be intercepted even before facility is visible to terrorists.
Not necessary to attack nuclear facilities in a developed country to obtain nuclear material and there are easier ways to deploy a weapon than the obvious.

Polonium 210 for example is a deadly material used to assasinate Alexsander Litvenyenko and is easily made by electron bombardment of Lead or Bismuth. Minute specks of it are found in the starters for neon light tubes.

A nation serious about domestic security should give serious thought to monitoring sales of these items and backyard construction of cyclotrons.

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ii. Plutonium

Plutonium (Pu) is the bi-product of Uranium. It is man made element (meaning not found in nature). Isotopic composition of Pu239 is used for making of nuclear bombs. Smaller quantity of Pu239 can create greater explosion then uranium of same or bit greater size. Production of Pu is very painstaking and lengthy. Uranium fuel rods are put through reprocessing where only fraction of uranium turns into plutonium. Pu is also found in nuclear waste and you have to separate it from all the other elements found in the waste.
Alternately using photo-fission one can bombard say Lithium deuteride and Uranium 238 to produce Plutonium without the need for a reactor at all.

Also with photo-fission one can use a much less seriously controlled substance Thorium 232 to produce weapons grade Uranium. Something which Nazi scientists figured out in 1943.

The US and British Governments have for decades been using WW2 secrecy to try ansd suppress knowledge of this for decades. Today in the era of internet inquisitiveness the public are dissecting the real facts of WW2 nuclear research and figuring it out for themselves. This secrecy however is only serving now to stifle a real debate on nuclear security.


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So you see it’s virtually or technologically impossible for a terrorist to gain fissile material and put it to good use. Only a state level assistance can help handle fissile material &/or make a nuclear bomb. That is why both fissile material and bomb only exist with governments till date.
The days when only Governments have the resources and know how to create atomic bombs are long gone and the longer we persist in this belief the more time terrorist organisations have to actually procure material and technology under our very noses.
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Old September 5th, 2010   #11
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Iran is moving to Laser enrichment which is significantly more efficient and cheaper than centrifuges.
All facilities that Iran claims to have built to date have been gas centrifuges based on Pakistani designs. They may eventually move to laser enrichment, but not soon or quickly.

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Polonium 210 for example is a deadly material used to assasinate Alexsander Litvenyenko and is easily made by electron bombardment of Lead or Bismuth.
You mean neutrons. Electrons will not work.

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Alternately using photo-fission one can bombard say Lithium deuteride and Uranium 238 to produce Plutonium without the need for a reactor at all.

Also with photo-fission one can use a much less seriously controlled substance Thorium 232 to produce weapons grade Uranium. Something which Nazi scientists figured out in 1943.

The US and British Governments have for decades been using WW2 secrecy to try ansd suppress knowledge of this for decades. Today in the era of internet inquisitiveness the public are dissecting the real facts of WW2 nuclear research and figuring it out for themselves. This secrecy however is only serving now to stifle a real debate on nuclear security.
This is conspiracy theory grade material.

Photo-fission has been demonstrated, but is not practical as production method. You need a source of very high energy gamma rays to make it work at all, then the reaction cross sections are very small, so the yield is low. And lastly, it is a fission process, you end up with 2 smaller atoms, not one atom with a neutron converted into a proton.
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Old October 11th, 2010   #12
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Yet the US was amazed at how far behind the germans were in there atomic bomb development.
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Old October 12th, 2010   #13
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I think that no one can even guess what the response would be if some one succeeded in detonating a nuclear device on American soil and killing a large number of its citizens. First no mater what the response of the leadership would be at that time to that event, they would be kicked out in the next election for failing to stop it before it happened so that would not be a consideration in their response. Since this has not ever happened before it would depend upon the personalities involved. If it was our current president he would probably apologize to the word for themfor the US making them do it to us. That is just the kind of guy he is.

By the way he is going to be a one term president only so they better hurry.

If it was someone other than the current president is running the show, then I think it is just as possible that He or She would clear the stage of all the bad actors at the same time (poof). If you are in for a penny you might as well be in for a pound. The political repercussions would be the same anyway, we would be condemned by the same people in the world for all the same old tired reasons we are always condemned for, so why not. When you go nuclear all bets are off baby and the world will never be the same anyway in more ways than we can imagine.

But if you think we will not know where the device came from, how it was made, or how it got to where it got, then you would be wrong. The science of identifying the sources of the materials within the fallout is very advanced to the point it can even identify the exact model of weapon and it last date of remanufacture.
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Old October 13th, 2010   #14
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Yet the US was amazed at how far behind the germans were in there atomic bomb development.
Shows what happens when politics overrides science.

Thanks to the Nazi purges, the Manhattan Project had several times as many German born and educated physicists and mathematicians than the German effort had, including almost all of the top performers and their students. The Nazi Party had also overhauled the teaching curriculum to purge it of any Jewish elements, which including most of the field of theoretical physics and all of quantum mechanics. Then there was the usual Nazi fragmented control and resourcing arrangement which made coordination of the work between labs almost impossible.

The result was that the Germans never developed large scale enrichment, the concept of a device based on fast fission, or realized the potential for a plutonium based weapon. According to some accounts, when the captured scientists heard that the atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima they thought that the bomb had to be a complete nuclear reactor, and spent several hours debating how the Allies had managed to build an airplane large enough to carry it!

The final nail in the Nazi coffin was resources, the US simply outspent the Nazi by several orders of magnitude. While the different labs (and sponsors) in Germany fought each other over the best theoretical way to do something (for control and funding), in the USA General Groves just used Edison’s approach, tried them all, and marked the ones that did not work off to experience.
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Old October 14th, 2010   #15
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You can trace enriched uranium/plutonium back to its source. If this happened to say boston or LA or New Orleans or what have you i can almost guarante who ever the president is a immediate nuclear attack on whoever is responsible. To not do so would mean lossing the elections in this country for more than a generation and potentialy causeing massive internal instability.
Lets be honest IF they were going to nuke us in the USA they are going to either hit Washington DC (hence no more government as we know it unless someone in the chain of command / cabinet is still alive per the 25th amendment to the US constitution) or they are going to nuke NY City to take out the UN when heads of state are there adressing the assembly. (found a new favorite smiley) unless they are trying to smuggle it in and think they will get inspected then I could see an early detonation in a major port city if they went to inspect it.
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