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megimoo
12-09-2008, 09:29 PM
Hidden Travels of the Atomic Bomb

Atomic insiders say the weapon was invented only once by the United States, and its secrets were spread around the globe by spies, scientists and the covert acts of nuclear states .

“The Nuclear Express: A Political History of the Bomb and its Proliferation”

The bank of centrifuges used to enrich uranium at the gas centrifuge enrichment plant in Piketon, Ohio. Each stage is relatively inefficient, so many hundreds are required to separate enough uranium for a single nuclear weapon.

In August 1945, after the atomic destruction of two Japanese cities, J. Robert Oppenheimer expressed foreboding about the spread of nuclear arms.
topics addressed in this week’s Science Times.

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‘The Bomb,’ Harper Collins

“They are not too hard to make,” he told his colleagues on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, N.M. “They will be universal if people wish to make them universal.”

That sensibility, born where the atomic bomb itself was born, grew into a theory of technological inevitability. Because the laws of physics are universal, the theory went, it was just a matter of time before other bright minds and determined states joined the club. A corollary was that trying to stop proliferation was quite difficult if not futile.

But nothing, it seems, could be further from the truth. In the six decades since Oppenheimer’s warning, the nuclear club has grown to only nine members. What accounts for the slow spread? Can anything be done to reduce it further? Is there a chance for an atomic future that is brighter than the one Oppenheimer foresaw?

Two new books by three atomic insiders hold out hope. The authors shatter myths, throw light on the hidden dynamics of nuclear proliferation and suggest new ways to reduce the threat.

Neither book endorses Oppenheimer’s view that bombs are relatively easy to make. Both document national paths to acquiring nuclear weapons that have been rocky and dependent on the willingness of spies and politicians to divulge state secrets.

Thomas C. Reed, a veteran of the Livermore weapons laboratory in California and a former secretary of the Air Force, and Danny B. Stillman, former director of intelligence at Los Alamos, have teamed up in “The Nuclear Express: A Political History of the Bomb and its Proliferation” to show the importance of moles, scientists with divided loyalties and — most important — the subtle and not so subtle interests of nuclear states.

“Since the birth of the nuclear age,” they write, “no nation has developed a nuclear weapon on its own, although many claim otherwise.”

Among other things, the book details how secretive aid from France and China helped spawn five more nuclear states.

It also names many conflicted scientists, including luminaries like Isidor I. Rabi. The Nobel laureate worked on the Manhattan Project in World War II and later sat on the board of governors of the Weizmann Institute of Science, a birthplace of Israel’s nuclear arms.

Secret cooperation extended to the secluded sites where nations tested their handiwork in thundering blasts. The book says, for instance, that China opened its sprawling desert test site to Pakistan, letting its client test a first bomb there on May 26, 1990.

That alone rewrites atomic history. It casts new light on the reign of Benazir Bhutto as prime minister of Pakistan and helps explain how the country was able to respond so quickly in May 1998 when India conducted five nuclear tests.

“It took only two weeks and three days for the Pakistanis to field and fire a nuclear device of their own,” the book notes.
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http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/09/science/09bomb.html?pagewanted=1&ei=5124&en=4b08bdf548c014f4&ex=1386565200&partner=digg&exprod=digg