John Mueller on Port Security
Among other ventures, this concern has led to a rather bizarre, and highly expensive, preoccupation with port security, driven by the assumptions, apparently, 1) that after manufacturing their device at great expense and effort overseas, an atomic terrorist or desperately diabolical rogue state would supply a return address and then entrust his or her precious product to the tender mercies of the commercial delivery system, and 2) that analyst Randall Larsen is incorrect to conclude that “anyone smart enough to obtain a nuclear device will be smart enough to put half an inch of lead around it.” As a result, a great deal of money has been hurled in that direction to inspect and to install radiation detectors, generating 500 false alarms daily at the Los Angeles/Long Beach port alone, triggered by such substances as kitty litter and bananas.
This is from John Mueller, Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to Al-Qaeda, Oxford University Press, 2010.
Jun 1 2012 at 10:32am
A shipment of Brazil nuts will make detectors go wild. When I was a nuclear engineering major, we used to get some mixed nuts and make the uninitiated jump out of their skins when we applied the Geiger counters…(the large nut is the Brazil nut)
Jun 1 2012 at 10:44am
I think the control argument is conclusive, and it’s born out in the actions of aspiring atomic powers: if you want nuclear weapons to be a viable threat, you need ballistic missiles. A nuclear weapon is a powerful threat when it is under your control, and when you can credibly threaten without committing an act of war.
It’s also a strong argument that we are underfunding ballistic missile defense.
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