April 12, 2010

This kind of aggressive program is vital if we're going to stop terrorists from detonating nuclear bombs. Good to know it's a high priority with this administration, because it will make the entire world safer:

SANTIAGO, Chile - Deep inside the containment building of a nuclear reactor that Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet built for his army, an aging engineer in a white lab coat struggled with a common house key to unlock a closet door.

Opening a dusty wooden box he pulled from a shelf, he revealed an array of thin aluminum-coated plates, and lifted one out with his bare hands.

"This is it," said Hugo Torres, the reactor's operations manager.

"It" is highly enriched uranium 235, HEU for short. It's the material that most worries anti-terrorism experts. Just 25 kilograms (55 pounds) of it in a nuclear bomb could devastate an entire city, in the same way the United States destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.

President Barack Obama's major shift in U.S. nuclear strategy puts a new emphasis on securing this kind of weapons-grade nuclear material, recognizing that terrorists and rogue states pose a much more immediate threat than the old fears of a communist nation provoking nuclear Armageddon by attacking the U.S. or its allies.

"For the first time, preventing nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism is now at the top of America's nuclear agenda," Obama said before signing a new START treaty with Russia to sharply reduce the number of warheads each country has ready to fire.

Obama now hopes to enlist leaders of 47 other nations at a White House summit beginning Monday to help him keep an ambitious promise, made a year ago this week, to secure all the world's vulnerable nuclear material within four years.

[...] Chile was among the first to agree to surrender its last HEU, 18 kilograms (40 pounds) it got from Britain and France for its two research reactors. A team of Americans finally shipped it out last month just after the country's massive earthquake, weaving a convoy of trucks around shattered highways in the middle of the night to reach a functioning port.

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