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Stardate 20011103.1857 (Crew, this is the Captain): Can you believe this? Four innings and Arizona is up 15-0. What a rout. Randy Johnson, the pitcher for God's sake, has a hit, an RBI and a run scored. What a miserable performance by New York. (discuss)

Stardate 20011103.1809 (On Screen): The headline states that the Taliban were ready to hand over bin Laden in 1998 but the retaliation bombing by the US spoiled it. I can see this getting used as ammunition (ahem) by the pacifists who are going to say "See; if we had just not responded in the first place none of this would have happened." Well, no.

If you look more closely, what you see is that the Taliban didn't actually say they'd had over bin Laden. What they said is that they'd be willing to talk about it. In fact, they've been "talking about it" with the US for years, but they never seemed to get to the point of actually doing anything -- and indeed there's every reason to believe that's what would have happened with the Saudis as well were it not for the American bombing. The Taliban are great ones for delay. (discuss)

Stardate 20011103.1537 (On Screen): This article speculates on the possibility that al Qaeda might have picked up nuclear material. It's possible they have the ability to produce a fission device, but my opinion is that if they had that ability, they would have used it already. This article speculates that what has happened is that they have nuclear material but that it isn't weapons grade, which means that the fissionables in it haven't be purified sufficient. There are basically four possibilities.

First, they may actually have weapons grade U-235 or Plutonium-239. I don't think I believe it, as mentioned. Second, they may have reactor-grade material. That's Uranium which has been fortified up from the natural 0.6% U-235 to perhaps 3%, and it's not possible for it to detonate no matter how much of it you stacked up; the best you could hope for would be something akin to a Chernobyl-style meltdown. Third, they may have spent reactor rods already used; in that case it will contain a fraction of a percent of plutonium 239 which could conceivably be purified chemically, but the quantity is low and the process is difficult (albeit a lot easier than that of separating out U-235 from U-238). To get sufficient material to produce a bomb, they'd need several tons of spent fuel rods, and I don't believe they have that many. Fourth, they may have other material which is radioactive but doesn't contain fissionables at all (i.e. nuclear wastes).

It's possible that al Quaeda has managed to acquire one or more actual weapons out of the collapse of the USSR or from some other source, but in that case this whole discussion is academic and we should prepare to lose a city. But if not, then this article speculates that they might create a "dirty bomb". They're using the term in a different way than it is usually meant; a "dirty bomb" is a fission or fusion warhead which is covered with some material like cobalt which will create hazardous radioactives with a long halflife and make an area uninhabitable for hundreds or thousands of years.

That's not what they're talking about. Rather, they're referring to the possibility of creating a conventional bomb and piling their nuclear material on top of it prior to detonation. The blast would vaporize the radioactive material and spread it over a wide area, contaminating it. That's possible, but I don't think it's a serious concern.

The reason is that this is actually a relatively unlethal weapon. Despite the hysteria many people have about radioactivity (fueled by myths that two ounces of plutonium is capable of killing everyone on earth and similar folk tales) it's actually not that hazardous. (Each of the dozens of atmospheric detonations in the 1950's vaporized many pounds of U-235 or Plutonium-239 and scattered it in the atmosphere as fine dust, and a lot of it is still there.) A bomb of this kind would at most render an area of a couple of city blocks unusable. In actuality, if you wanted to do the same thing much easier, then layer the bomb with large quantities of arsenic trioxide. The bomb would spread that around, and ounce for ounce it would be even more lethal. (Arsenic is extremely deadly and death is slow and very painful. It's also commonly used in agriculture as a pesticide and not that difficult to acquire in quantity if you're dedicated.) The cleanup problem would be comparable or perhaps worse.

On the other hand, considering that hysteria about things radioactive which is so widespread in the US, such a bomb based on scattering radioactive isotopes would be a better terror weap

Captured by MemoWeb from on 9/16/2004