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Security United States Science

Program To Detect Smuggled Nuclear Bombs Stalls 224

Pickens writes "The NY Times reports that a program to detect plutonium or uranium in shipping containers has stalled because the United States has run out of helium 3, a crucial raw material needed to build the 1,300 to 1,400 machines to be deployed in ports around the world to thwart terrorists who might try to deliver a nuclear bomb to a big city by stashing it in one of the millions of containers that enter the United States every year. Helium 3 is an unusual form of the element that is formed when tritium, an ingredient of hydrogen bombs, decays — but the government mostly stopped making tritium in 1989 after accumulating a substantial stockpile of Helium 3 as a byproduct of maintaining nuclear weapons. 'I have not heard any explanation of why this was not entirely foreseeable,' says Representative Brad Miller, chairman of a House subcommittee that is investigating the problem. Helium 3 is not hazardous or even chemically reactive, and it is not the only material that can be used for neutron detection. The Homeland Security Department has older equipment that can look for radioactivity, but it does not differentiate well between bomb fuel and innocuous materials that naturally emit radiation like cat litter, ceramic tiles and bananas — and sounds false alarms more often. In a letter to President Obama, Miller called the shortage 'a national crisis' and said the price had jumped to $2,000 a liter from $100 in the last few years. With continuing concern that Al Qaida or other terrorists will try to smuggle a nuclear weapon into the United States, Congress has mandated that, by 2012, all containers bound for the US be inspected overseas."
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Program To Detect Smuggled Nuclear Bombs Stalls

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  • by Snarkalicious ( 1589343 ) on Monday November 23, 2009 @07:23PM (#30207966)
  • by yurtinus ( 1590157 ) on Monday November 23, 2009 @07:42PM (#30208202)
    I need a correlation between "moose knuckle" and "camel toe"

    Do you think you could deliver that in car-analogy form?
  • 0.4 Kevins (Score:5, Funny)

    by sexconker ( 1179573 ) on Monday November 23, 2009 @07:48PM (#30208250)

    How do you get 0.4 Kevins? Is this some sort of midget? It's dangerously close to 0 Kevins.

    My home town nearly went to zero Kevins back in 1978.

    It was a particularly cold winter, and we were already down to 3 Kevins (due to their low popularity at the time).

    Kevin Thomas had flown out to be with his son's family for a wedding and got stuck in Boston for a whole week due to the weather. 2 Kevins left.

    Kevin Lemmer was rushed to the hospital during my shift. I still remember the call from the EMTs as the ambulance was rushing toward us. "It's Lemmer. He's in bad shape. Drove right into the fucking ditch." We called the time of death at 6:15 PM.

    At 6:16, all eyes turned to room 2217. Kevin Spencer was 82 and on his death bed with leukemia. His family being Catholic, he had already been given his last rights. If he couldn't hold out until Kevin Thomas returned, we would be at zero Kevins. Sure, we had 4 perfectly healthy Calvins, but they're just not the same.

    It was 7:15 when Carla Brooks and her husband James burst through the main entrance. "She's not due for 2 weeks!", James exclaimed. As the staff bustled around getting the Brookses settled, they exchanged darting glances with each other. This was their first child, and they wanted to keep the baby's sex a secret. Of course, in a small town, secrets don't get kept. Nearly all of the hospital staff new that the child about to rip open Mrs. Brooks was indeed a boy.

    The delivery was routine, and Kevin Brooks was born healthy, if a tad underweight, at 10:52 PM. Kevin Spencer was pronounced dead at 10:54.

    It was, as they say, a close one. Kevin Thomas arrived two days later, the weather having finally cleared up. To this day, we still rib him about it.

    Cedar Falls is currently at 5 Kevins.

  • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Monday November 23, 2009 @07:49PM (#30208262) Homepage Journal

    if all Debian developers caught swine flu and perished. Not a big deal, just move over to Ubuntu


  • Re:Hmmm... (Score:2, Funny)

    by sexconker ( 1179573 ) on Monday November 23, 2009 @08:02PM (#30208406)

    Goin' great Last Available Usern.
    (Or should I say - "USAs all be an evil rat"?)

    Your weapon... fun-sized... shipment of ura... American candy... will be arriving shortly.

  • by travisco_nabisco ( 817002 ) on Monday November 23, 2009 @08:23PM (#30208604)
    I probably stalled because it is near impossible to tell the difference between a smuggled nuclear bomb and a TSA approved nuclear bomb in check luggage.
  • by yurtinus ( 1590157 ) on Monday November 23, 2009 @08:27PM (#30208648)
    Alright, well you clearly sound like you know what you're talking about on this subject, so perhaps you could answer a few questions that are likely weighing heavily on many of our minds:

    1 - If I were to suck on a baloon filled with 3He, what would be the resulting effect on the frequency response of my vocal chords?
    2 - Same question as above, but replace "I" and "my" with "Mickey Mouse"
    3 - If I were to breathe reclaimed Mickey Mouse 3He, would I gain supernatural powers and large ears?
    4 - Have all those years on the steamboat given Mickey Mouse emphysema and does he have long to live?

    Inquiring minds must know!
  • by confused one ( 671304 ) on Monday November 23, 2009 @08:37PM (#30208742)
    Another method would be to fund a few prototype generation IV power plants. A gas-cooled fast reactor should fit the bill nicely.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 23, 2009 @08:50PM (#30208862)

    god dammit, stop posting shit like this, terrorists read slashdot.

  • by Jesus_666 ( 702802 ) on Monday November 23, 2009 @09:34PM (#30209164)

    His family being Catholic, he had already been given his last rights.

    "You have the right to die silently. Anything you say or do can and will be used against you on Judgement Day. You have the right to an attorney, although the judge is already omniscient so it's fairly pointless. If you cannot afford an attorney on Judgment Day don't worry, neither can anyone else. If you understand these rights as they have been read to you then say 'amen'."

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 23, 2009 @09:55PM (#30209316)

    Actually it has.. major terrorist plots have been busted and prevented unneeded deaths because of these new tools.

    I, for one am glad these tools are at their disposal. Its kept us safe, and that's all I care about. Even the Messiah Obama hasn't rescinded any of them so he knows they are worth the price.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 23, 2009 @10:33PM (#30209552)

    There's seriously a program aimed at developing and deploying a fleet of nuclear bomb detectors at every port in the United States?

    What kind of ridiculous bullshit is this? Did someone at the DHS watch a few episodes of 24 to come up with this? It's movie-plot anti-terrorism at its absolute worst: imaging ridiculously specific scenarios and spending enormous amounts of money to guard against them.

    As if a terrorist organization resourceful enough to obtain a *nuclear fucking weapon* would somehow have difficulty bringing it into the country. This is a nation into which several metric tonnes of cocaine and thousands of illegal immigrants are successfully smuggled every year, and someone imagines that they'll be able to erect a perfect wall to keep a few kilograms of metal out of the country?

    What congressman's nephew is being paid to make these detectors?

    Hey! I know you! You're the same guy who'll be bitching and screaming at the top of his lungs about how the government should have known a nuclear terrorist attack was in the works and how they should have done something to stop it.

  • by stinkytoe ( 955163 ) on Monday November 23, 2009 @10:50PM (#30209656)
    That kinda reminds me of what I heard Tom Clancy say in an interview once, and I am paraphrasing. When asked how one could bring a nuclear bomb into the states he said: "Just wrap it in cocaine and bring it through the Port if Miami."
  • by gad_zuki! ( 70830 ) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @12:07AM (#30210032)

    >Do you think you could deliver that in car-analogy form?

    F450 vs a Miata.

  • by mudshark ( 19714 ) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @03:27AM (#30210830)
    Back in the 1960s and 70s, a small factory made glow-in-the-dark clock and watch faces across the street from the bakery and kitchens for my school district. They used a paint which released tritium as it dried, and their fume hoods vented out the roof (why not? plenty of air circulation!) and the prevailing breezes carried a nice dose of alpha particles across the street on most days to settle out on the food that we were served. When somebody somewhere was tipped off that this arrangement may not have been completely kosher, some local muckrakers and a couple of curious scientists showed up with a Geiger counter. One dish in particular, sunshine cake, was damn hot and legend has it that the name alludes to its brightness....I blame all my societal maladjustment on this lapse in food safety.

    Kids, don't trust the food just because the lady with the hairnet says it's OK. Get it checked out by one of the guys in the hazmat suits.
  • by selven ( 1556643 ) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @12:50PM (#30215392)
    Last writes? You're going to die and all you care about is your filesystem?

Who goeth a-borrowing goeth a-sorrowing. -- Thomas Tusser