November 10, 2006
DefenseTech notes that
the wonks at the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Federation of American Scientists have teamed up to make a Google Earth map of the nearly nearly 10,000 nuclear warheads in the U.S. arsenal.The map can be viewed on GoogleMaps here, or can be downloaded for GoogleEarth (which is itself free) here. [I prefer the GoogleEarth version, as it is less cluttered with other place names].
The satellite map - drawn from this Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists study -- "offers a fresh accounting of the extensive U.S. nuclear inventory, and its dynamic graphics let site users 'fly' onscreen across a sprawling network of military facilities in 12 states and in Europe," a press release reads.
One of the sites is the Pantex facility, outside Amarillo, TX. Robert Kaplan visited Pantex in the mid-1990s and wrote about the experience in his book An Empire Wilderness: Travels Into America's Future. He is escorted throughout the facility, and has an opportunity to interview four of the workers who disassemble nuclear weapons. Here's the Pantex facility . . .
. . . about which, Kaplan said this:
Say what you will about the logic, or illogic, of being able to destroy human civilization many times over; or about the cancer-causing radioactivity that the U.S. nuclear weapons program inflicted on its own citizens in the 1950s and after; or about other abuses that may have occurred over the decades. Still, never before in history, certainly not under any of the great bureaucratic despotisms of ancient Egypt of China, not in Aztec Mexico, not even in the vast death apparatuses of Stalin's Russia or Hitler's Germany, has so much destructive power been overseen so seamlessly and politely, with press tours given to any journalist who bothers to phone in advance and can prove American citizenship.
Will the United States be around as long as these weapons exist and the plutonium cores remain lethal? Even after hundreds of years, some sort of government bureaucracy will be necessary to furnish maps of their underground locations. Even if science discovers a way to remove all the radioactivity instantly, that process, too, would require rigid government oversight. Moreover, the possibility that the coming century will see the elimination of nuclear weapons is unlikely: "Nations prefer familiar uncertainties to thoroughly unfamiliar leaps in the dark," said Hard professor Stanley Hoffman. Can the city council of Amarillo or even the state of Texas be trusted to oversee Pantex? I think not. That is the conundrum. The collapse of distances and the increasing interconnectedness of the world economy argue against the permanence of Washington. The visit to Pantex made it clear to me that the future (if there is to be one) will depend on the transformation of the federal government into an as-yet-undiscovered alloy -- a far more flexible, lightweight version of itself -- so as to appear almost invisible, even as it retains the power to oversee not only nuclear weapons but, for example, ever-scarce water resources. Whether this is likely, who can say?
If Kaplan's musings are relevant to the United States, then one begins to see the smallest glimpse of the future problems that the nuclear programs of regimes such as North Korea, Pakistan, and Iran will cause us. What of nuclear storage facilities that are but a few dozen miles from Waziristan right now? What of North Korean facilities for which there is no government map or diagram?
In Iraq I once witnessed the accidental eruption of a large ammunition storage facility. It spanned acres and acres of hard, cracked dirt, with bunkers spaced here and there. Inside each one, remarkably cool given the outside temperature, were row upon row of Soviet-era munitions of all kinds: mortar and artillery shells, land mines, rockets for various purposes, ad infinitum. There were dozens of such bunkers. I had the opportunity to visit this area one day and did so. Even though on a battalion staff, I liked to go see the places where our Marine engineers would be working, so I'd know what I was talking about when they sent updates and so forth.
One morning around 9am, I was sitting at my desk doing regular stuff when the ammo point, at least two or so miles away, began to explode. As senior officers raced toward the site to check on our folks, I ran to the roof of my building to see what was happening. The entire site was going up. Even from a two-mile distance, I could feel the heat from the blasts.
After returning to the US, I realized when the IEDs started that it was sites like the one I had visited that were providing much of the materiel.
What sorts of IEDs will come out of Pakistan's ammo dumps if Musharraf's regime ever falls? Or from Yongbyon, should Kim depart the scene?
Kaplan says, "Even after hundreds of years, some sort of government bureaucracy will be necessary to furnish maps of their underground locations," and speaks of "the transformation of the federal government into an as-yet-undiscovered alloy -- a far more flexible, lightweight version of itself -- so as to appear almost invisible, even as it retains the power to oversee . . . nuclear weapons."
Yet perhaps this post itself hints at what the answer might truly be. Today, those who stumble upon the Federation of American Scientists page, or DefenseTech, or this blog, can find a GoogleMap of the locations of all American nuclear stockpiles. What might be available to such surfers in 5 years? Or 10? Is it not possible that instead of a government bureaucracy that serves as the caretaker and guardian of such knowledge, perhaps instead some other form of human organization -- something more organic, spontaneously ordered, and resilient -- will take its place?
Posted by Chester at November 10, 2006 12:50 AM
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