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Has Panic Over Bioterrorism Eclipsed the Threat of Nuclear Attacks?

StoryOctober 18, 2001
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"It is hard to imagine how the tragedy of 11 September could have been worse," Secretary General Kofi Annan told theUN General Assembly recently. "Yet the truth is that a single attack involving a nuclear or biological weapon couldhave killed millions."

When Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was asked, on CBS News’s "Face the Nation," if he had ruled out the use ofnuclear weapons in the current conflict, he replied that the country had never ruled out a first nuclear strike. Hesaid: "What we need to do, it seems to me, as a country, is to recognize how different this situation is . . . thinkof it, the deterrence that worked in the Cold War didn’t work."

But reports of bioterrorism and the nation’s panic over anthrax attacks have almost entirely eclipsed the threat ofnuclear powers. Last night, a "credible threat" against Three Mile Island prompted federal officials to put thenuclear power plant on a high state of alert and shut down airspace around it. Harrisburg International Airport andLancaster Airport were reopened this morning after a four-hour closure while military aircraft patrolled area skiesand the FBI and state police watched over the plant. Officials said there was no timetable to lift the additionalsecurity measures at Three Mile Island. The power plant had already taken additional security measures after theSept. 11 terrorist attacks, but yesterday’s alert tightened security further, they said. A spokesman for Three MileIsland, confirmed the plant’s high state of alert, but declined to discuss the type of threat or the additionalsecurity measures that were taken. He said Three Mile Island was the only nuclear power plant threatened.

Nuclear scientists caution that Pakistan has substantial nuclear assets, and little is known about their security.The Institute for Science and International Security pleads: The First Casualty of the War on Terrorism Must not bePakistan. They warn that Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons could fall into terrorists’ hands. Increased instability inPakistan could make Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and stocks of nuclear explosive material dangerously vulnerable totheft by militant groups. This means the United States must use the utmost care in its approach to nuclear-armedPakistan for help in extracting Osama bin Laden from Afghanistan.


  • David Krieger, President, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.
  • David Albright, President and founder of ISIS, Institute for Science and International Security.

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