On April 14, 2010, Democracy Now’s Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Amy Goodman interviewed John Mueller, author of Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to Al-Qaeda, and John Steinbach, who has studied Israel’s nuclear weapons program. The interview is worth replaying; it is gratifying to hear a recognized political science expert surprise relatively committed anti-nuclear journalists by telling them that their fear of “loose nukes” is not justified because the probabilities are so low.
Here is a key part of the transcript:
AMY GOODMAN: But Professor Mueller, why is it so hard for groups to get so-called “loose” nukes?
JOHN MUELLER: Well, mainly because they don’t exist. (Emphasis added.) No one has really been able to find anything that’s a loose nuke. If you did actually buy or sell—buy or steal a nuclear weapon, what you’d find is that it’s got a lot of locks on it, and there’s very few people who know how to unlock it. In the case of Pakistan, for example, they keep their weapons in pieces, so you’d have to steal or buy one half, find—go to another secure location and buy or steal the other half, somehow know how to put tab A into slot B, and set it off. The number of people—as I say, the number of people who know how to set them off is very small. The people who designed them are not—do not know how to set them off. And the people who maintain them do not know how to set them off. So just getting the bombs—and they also have locks on them which will, if tampered with, will cause a conventional explosion, which will cause the weapon itself to self-destruct, effectively, in a conventional explosion. So the danger is extraordinarily small (Emphasis added.), it seems to me.
Professor Mueller also makes a key point later in the interview when he says the following:
I think the probability that a terrorist could get or make a nuclear weapon is extremely small. But inexpensive measures to make that probability even lower are fine with me. What I’m concerned about is expensive measures to do so—for example, starting wars against Iraq or Iran, or doing things like inspecting every cargo ship, every container that comes into the United States, which is an extremely expensive process in itself, plus the disruption to the economy.
I am not sure if he would agree, but in my opinion the absolutely most expensive choice we could make out of inflated fear of “loose nukes” or the possibility of weapons proliferation is to continue to use that fear to slow or halt the deployment of nuclear energy systems. Constricting the supply of emission-free energy from concentrated, abundant sources like uranium and thorium makes the world a more dangerous place and contributes to the vast inequities of the economy by increasingly concentrating wealth into the hands of oil, gas and coal producers.