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Nuclear Weapons Dilemma

February 12, 2007 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 85, Issue 7

I strongly support Michael Heylin's position in Government & Policy Hindsights (C&EN, Nov. 13, 2006, page 34). I witnessed many of the 26 multi-megaton nuclear weapons bursts during the last U.S. test series in the atmosphere off Christmas and Johnston Islands over the Pacific Ocean in mid-1962. I was horrified then, not only to see a potential city-vaporizing fireball up close (35 miles away), but also to contemplate the many cases of radiation sickness that might result from the radioactive clouds drifting off beyond the horizon. I do not ever want to see or hear of another such blast.

The only way to end nuclear proliferation is to give up all nuclear weapons. These bombs are useless weapons in any case. They may be a deterrent, say for North Korea or Iran to prevent the U.S. from a first, preemptive strike, but neither Kim Jong Il nor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the ayatollahs would risk a preemptive strike against us or other nations such as Israel. Those leaders may appear to be mad, but they are rational enough not to risk a retaliatory nuclear attack that would destroy them and their whole countries.

However, there is an extremely serious nuclear risk from a terrorist group that would steal or buy a warhead or radioactive material and perhaps not hesitate to use it against us or our allies. How can we prevent that catastrophic event? As I see it, the only way is to get rid of all nuclear weapons and put in place much stricter regulations, accounting for all fissile and radioactive substances. That will take patient negotiations for many, many years, bit by bit decreasing all of the stockpiles.

Vigilance through continuing intensive inspections, as we have not practiced heretofore, will be the price of a world without nuclear weapons. The U.S., with tens of thousands of nuclear weapons still in its stockpile, must take the lead.

Richard S. Greeley
St. Davids, Pa.

Heylin's article is nonsense and is totally out of place in our technical journal. In the future, please stick to the area in which you have some competence-namely, chemical research and industry news.

Malcolm L. Watts
Kennett Square, Pa.

I was encouraged by Heylin's article and his implicit advocacy of a Treaty for the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. Heylin is quite right in criticizing the behavior of the declared nuclear powers with respect to their failure to meet their disarmament obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

As the most powerful of the five declared nuclear powers, the U.S. deserves most of the blame for the ever-deepening nuclear proliferation crisis. Its efforts to maintain a grossly excessive weapons stockpile (the Stockpile Stewardship Program) and to enhance its existing capability (the Reliable Replacement Warhead program) make clear to other nations that nuclear weapons not only are appropriate tools of a powerful state but also are necessary deterrents to aggressive U.S. foreign policy.

For the U.S. to complain about North Korean and Iranian nukes is utterly hypocritical so long as our nation continues to enhance its own arsenal of genocidal nuclear weaponry.

David B. Cordes
Oakland, Calif.


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