- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 22, 2004

In the three years since the attacks of September 11, 2001, Congress has gone to great lengths to better secure our nation from terrorism. Federal air marshals have been deployed on passenger planes, security standards have been imposed on ports, millions of dollars have been dispensed to first responders, and an entirely new department of government has been created. However, a potential nuclear attack on the United States has not received the attention it warrants or the resources it requires.

A nuclear attack on our nation would produce unparalleled devastation and suffering here. It is estimated a 12-1/2 kiloton nuclear weapon — which could fit in a small crate — used against New York City could kill 250,000 innocent people; another 700,000 would suffer from radiation sickness.

An attack would create widespread chaos as people fled the deadly cloud of radiation. The pulse from a strike would take down communication systems, cyber networks, and the other electronic control systems that make our lives function. Our already stretched health-care infrastructure would be overwhelmed immediately. After- ward, a broad swath of a once-vibrant urban area would be rendered uninhabitable for years.

A nuclear attack against the United States is a real and potential threat. Respected researchers from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and the Monterey Institute, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, have recently written reports predicting and depicting the home-front threat of nuclear terrorism. The news services provide fresh disclosures literally every day on this increased risk. North Korea and Iran are the latest but certainly not the only flash points of concern. Lack of security around nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union continues to be documented. Reports of suitcase-sized nuclear weapons sold on the black market are often cited, as well as al Qaeda claiming access to various capabilities. The knowledge necessary to build a nuclear weapon can be found on-line and in libraries around the world. Readily available shielding technologies make smuggling a weapon into the United States a low-risk proposition.

America needs to deny terrorists access to these materials and the knowledge necessary to turn them into weapons of mass destruction. And all nations must disrupt the terrorist networks and deny them funding needed to carry out such an attack. However, in addition to reducing risk of an attack, the United States needs to be ready to respond if our best efforts fail.

And, with the enactment of Project BioShield, the government has the mechanism available to spur investment in next-generation medical counter-measures against the nuclear threat. Why, then, is the government not acting more rapidly to employ a mechanism to encourage the development and delivery of effective new medical countermeasures against a nuclear threat? This is proceeding too slowly. Other threats require attention but they simply do not present the same risk.

Why isn’t development of drug candidates fast-tracked immediately by the government, especially now that BioShield has been enacted? To get that answer, Rep, Darrell Issa, California Republican, and I introduced the Radioprotectant Procurement Act of 2004 (H.R. 5000), asking for accelerated identification and development of available medical countermeasures against nuclear and radiological threats.

If the government acts now, we might have a safe, effective nuclear antidote deployed as early as next year. Failure to do so now, before a terrorist can use a nuclear weapon against us, unacceptably risks millions of American lives.

Curt Weldon, a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Pennsylvania, is vice chairman of the House Armed Services Member and serves on the Select Committee for Homeland Security.

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