The Numbers on Nuclear Proliferation

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A briefing on nuclear proliferation produces a flurry of fascinating statistics on the international competition for nuclear weapons. Some are encouraging. Some are daunting.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

Now NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr offers his thoughts on Iran and nuclear weapons.

DANIEL SCHORR: At a briefing the other day on the spread of nuclear weapons, Harvard professor Graham Allison chose an interesting way of highlighting the problem, or problems. It was in the form of a quiz and it ran like this. How many nations today have nuclear bombs? Answer, nine. The United States, Russia, Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea. How many nations have voluntarily chosen not to build nuclear weapons? Answer, 183 signed on to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. I won't read that list.

How many have eliminated their nuclear weapons? Answer, four. Three former Soviet states - Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus - plus South Africa. And if the nuclear race goes on unchecked, how many more nuclear states are there likely to be by the year 2020? As many as 10, including Iran, Japan, South Korea, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Venezuela and Nigeria. But these numbers assume that nothing will happen among the states racing each other to be the next members of the nuclear club. Nor does it take into account the threat from terrorist organizations that may acquire nuclear weapons.

Dr. Allison has written on the subject of nuclear terrorism, which he calls the ultimate preventable catastrophe. To counter that threat, he proposes a no loose nukes campaign in which nuclear states cooperate in keeping nuclear material out of the hands of terrorists. But how optimistic is he that the threat can be contained? On the subject of how high he rates the chance that nuclear weapons will be launched in anger in this decade, his answer, 20 percent.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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