[FOUNTAIN]The specter of nuclear terror

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[FOUNTAIN]The specter of nuclear terror

The use of an atomic bomb in a war was first postulated in a novel published in 1914. Herbert George Wells, a British writer, predicted in "The World Set Free" that a new weapon using atomic power would be developed and used in a war between the United States, Germany and France.

It was this book that led Leo Szilard, a U.S. physicist, to believe that a new kind of bomb could be made by splitting atoms. Mr. Szilard, who had fled to the United States to escape Hitler's persecution, learned that German scientists would cooperate with the Nazis to create a nuclear bomb. He then rushed to Albert Einstein and urged him to develop such a weapon before Hitler could. But Mr. Einstein hesitated because he hated war.

He did, however, write U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939: "Some recent work by E. Fermi and L. Szilard ... leads me to expect that the element uranium may be turned into a new and important source of energy in the immediate future. Certain aspects of the situation which has arisen seem to call for watchfulness and, if necessary, quick action on the part of the Administration."

Work to make a nuclear bomb by enriching uranium was launched on Dec. 6, 1941, one day before Japanese warplanes attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Four years later, a uranium 235 bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and a plutonium 239 bomb on Nagasaki. The blasts demonstrated the dreadful power from nuclear fission. U.S. scientists referred to the Hiroshima bomb with the code name "Beast."

The world has changed. Still, efforts by dictators and terrorists to obtain concentrated uranium are beyond our imagination. In 1993, Osama bin Laden began his plan to buy it secretly through the Al Qaeda network. As the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, a significant amount of enriched uranium disappeared, leading to mounting threats of terrorism. When U.S. armed forces began their attack on Afghanistan last year, Pakistan had to hastily move its nuclear materials due to concerns that terrorists might attempt to steal them.

North Korea's plan to develop nuclear weapons through uranium concentration has sent shock waves throughout Korea and the rest of the world. How did it obtain the technology for enriching uranium? And how did the United States get the information about its plans? There are too many questions surrounding this issue.

The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Choi Chul-joo

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