FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Five Ways a Wider Syrian War Could Go Nuclear

by HARVEY WASSERMAN

In the wake of an apparent break in the march to a wider war, the reality of a nuclear dimension in Syria remains largely unspoken.

There are at least five key reasons why American military intervention in Syria’s civil war could go nuclear:

(1) There’s a reactor near Damascus.

It is relatively small, by most accounts containing about a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of weapons-grade uranium. That’s not much in the scheme of things when it comes to building an atomic bomb. But as Alexsandr Lukashevich of the Russian Foreign Ministryputs it, “If a warhead, by design or by chance, were to hit the Miniature Neutron Source Reactor (MSNR) near Damascus, the consequences could be catastrophic.”

Of prime concern would be “contamination by highly enriched uranium” throughout the immediate environs. At the very least, it would be “a serious local radiation hazard,” according to Mark Hibbs of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, speaking on Russia Today.

Lukashevich also predicts that “it would no longer be possible to account for nuclear material, its safety and control.” Such material, he warns darkly, could fall into “the wrong hands.”

If the U.S. does ultimately attack Syria, it would want to avoid hitting that reactor. It’s also possible that in the ensuing chaos, one of the myriad unaccountable factions roaming through the civil war could target that nuke. Such a group could blame the U.S. or claim credit, depending on its particular orientation.

Whether it happens, that reactor is just another sitting atomic duck awaiting a random shooter and the cover of new chaos.

(2) Despite Secretary of State John Kerry’s promise of an “unbelievably limited” attack, once the U.S. military commits to action in Syria, it is unlikely to hold back any of its tactical arsenal. That would almost certainly include depleted uranium (DU).

When shells made of this super-hard material penetrate armored vehicles, hardened bunkers and other structures, the DU disperses into fine radioactive particulates that are easily inhaled. Wherever deployed—as in Yugoslavia, Iraq and Afghanistan—DU inflicts horrifying health consequences, including cancer among people of all ages and birth defects among children born well after its use. Uranium-238 has a half-life of 4.5 billion years, imposing virtually permanent contamination.

Should DU weaponry be used yet again, this time in Syria, the contamination would be widespread and irreversible. Many thousands of innocent people—including the countless unborn—would suffer greatly. As with all radioactive fallout, the lethal effects will stretch through the generations.

(3) When the world’s superpowers collide, nuclear war is always a possibility.

At this point, the U.S. and Russia appear to be coming together. But in this too-often irrational global tinderbox, the stakes could not be higher.

In such situations, we hope for the best, but can’t lose sight of the potential worst.

In Tuesday night’s speech, President Obama mentioned the use of chemical weapons during World War I. He might also recall that a bizarre assassination in Sarajevo by a tiny handful of young Serb nationals somehow touched off a four-year war that killed 10 million people outright, plus another 10 million—including 500,000 Americans—in theinfluenza epidemic that followed.

To this day, the circumstances that sparked that war are virtually impossible to comprehend. They seem, indeed, to have somehow acquired a devastating momentum all their own.

Yet the instability of the Balkans back then pales before the flashpoint that is today’s Middle East. A protest in Syria turned into a civil war, and then a proxy war. It could easily expand into a regional and, in the worst case, global, conflict. Looming in the background of the tense, torturous negotiations yet to come is the reality that despite everyone’s best wishes, diplomatic failure is a distinct possibility—one that could ultimately become synonymous with the atomic unthinkable.

(4) In the bottomless turbulence that defines today’s Middle East, the Americans and Russians so far seem to retain some shreds of rationality. But given the Peaceful Atom’s half century of weapons-grade proliferation, we cannot know which nations or marginal groups might now have atomic devices and what random impulses might prompt their use.

In a profoundly unpredictable world, each of the more than 400 commercial-sized reactors still operating continues to produce radioactive materials that could fuel a nuclear weapon.

Each of those reactors is itself a profoundly vulnerable target. Should the situation in Syria devolve to a wider war, the likelihood of a freelance atomic “situation” becomes all too probable.

(5) While the world’s attention is focused on Syria, the global-scale disaster at Fukushima spirals out of control.

The more serious the crisis in Syria, the more it will divert attention from an existing nuclear disaster.

Millions of tons of heavily contaminated water continuously flow through the site in central Japan and into the Pacific Ocean. Millions more accumulate in flimsy tanks already breaking apart, all within the specter of the next earthquake.

The three melted cores at Fukushima Daiichi have yet to be found. The common radioactive waste pool near Unit Four is surrounded by buildings whose foundations are being undermined by the continuous flow of radioactive water.

Most terrifying, the entire core of Unit Four remains perched in a damaged fuel pool 100 feet in the air, atop a structure that’s sinking. Should it crash to the ground, that core could potentially spew into the ocean and atmosphere more than 20,000 times the radiation released at Hiroshima.

A sane species would be pouring all its resources into somehow healing the open apocalyptic wound that still festers at Fukushima.

Yet we are tied up in Syria. We can be deeply grateful that the situation there today seems at least slightly less dangerous than it did yesterday.

But atomic danger lurks without warning in every facet of this crisis.

Harvey Wasserman edits www.nukefree.org and is author of SOLARTOPIA!  Our Green-Powered Earth.  His SOLARTOPIA GREEN POWER & WELLNESS SHOW is at www.prn.fm.  This article was first published at Truthdig.com.

Harvey Wasserman wrote SOLARTOPIA! Our Green-Powered Earth. His Green Power & Wellness Show is at www.prn.fm

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
David Price
Rogue Elephant Rising: The CIA as Kingslayer
Matthew Stevenson
Is Trump the Worst President Ever?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Flynn?
John Wight
Brexit and Trump: Why Right is Not the New Left
Diana Johnstone
France: Another Ghastly Presidential Election Campaign; the Deep State Rises to the Surface
Neve Gordon
Trump’s One-State Option
Roger Harris
Emperor Trump Has No Clothes: Time to Organize!
Joan Roelofs
What Else is Wrong with Globalization
Andrew Levine
Why Trump’s Muslim Travel Ban?
Mike Whitney
Blood in the Water: the Trump Revolution Ends in a Whimper
Vijay Prashad
Trump, Turmoil and Resistance
Ron Jacobs
U.S. Imperial War Personified
David Swanson
Can the Climate Survive Adherence to War and Partisanship?
Andre Vltchek
Governor of Jakarta: Get Re-elected or Die!
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Destruction of Mosul
Norman Pollack
Self-Devouring Reaction: Governmental Impasse
Steve Horn
What Do a Louisiana Pipeline Explosion and Dakota Access Pipeline Have in Common? Phillips 66
Brian Saady
Why Corporations are Too Big to Jail in the Drug War
Graham Peebles
Ethiopia: Peaceful Protest to Armed Uprising
Luke Meyer
The Case of Tony: Inside a Lifer Hearing
Binoy Kampmark
Adolf, The Donald and History
Robert Koehler
The Great American Awakening
Murray Dobbin
Canadians at Odds With Their Government on Israel
Fariborz Saremi
A Whole New World?
Joyce Nelson
Japan’s Abe, Trump & Illegal Leaks
Christopher Brauchli
Trump 1, Tillerson 0
Yves Engler
Is This Hate Speech?
Dan Bacher
Trump Administration Exempts Three CA Oil Fields From Water Protection Rule at Jerry Brown’s Request
Richard Klin
Solid Gold
Melissa Garriga
Anti-Abortion and Anti-Fascist Movements: More in Common Than Meets the Eye
Thomas Knapp
The Absurd Consequences of a “Right to Privacy”
W. T. Whitney
The Fate of Prisoner Simón Trinidad, as Seen by His U. S. Lawyer
Brian Platt
Don’t Just Oppose ICE Raids, Tear Down the Whole Racist Immigration Enforcement Regime
Paul Cantor
Refugee: the Compassionate Mind of Egon Schwartz
Norman Richmond
The Black Radical Tradition in Canada
Barton Kunstler
Rallying Against the Totalitarian Specter
Judith Deutsch
Militarism:  Revolutionary Mothering and Rosie the Riveter
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir Evoked a Lot More International Attention in the 1950s Than It Does Now
Adam Phillips
There Isn’t Any There There
Louis Proyect
Steinbeck’s Red Devils
Randy Shields
Left Coast Date: the Dating Site for the ORWACA Tribe
Charles R. Larson
Review: Bill Hayes’ “Insomniac City”
David Yearsley
White Supremacy and Music Theory
February 16, 2017
Peter Gaffney
The Rage of Caliban: Identity Politics, the Travel Ban, and the Shifting Ideological Framework of the Resistance
Ramzy Baroud
Farewell to Doublespeak: Israel’s Terrifying Vision for the Future
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail