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A 1-kiloton nuclear bomb can fit inside a suitcase and could kill about 25,000 people if it exploded near the White House. A 10-kiloton explosive, which could be hidden in the back of a Chevy Suburban, could kill about 100,000 people and injure at least 150,000 more. Those grisly estimates are courtesy of Cham Dallas, director of the Institute for Health Management and Mass Destruction Defense at the University of Georgia.
Dallas was among those testifying at a Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing in April about how well this country is prepared for a nuclear attack. His answer: Not well enough.
That's doubly disturbing, because Dallas and others say that the risk of such an attack is rising because of the spread of nuclear technology and the surging global terrorist movement. "It's inevitable," he said of such an attack. "I think it's wistful to think that it won't happen by 20 years."
He blamed the "march of technology" for the rising threat.
We hope he's wrong about the certainty of a nuclear attack on American soil. But there's no doubt that nuclear technology is on the march, particularly in Iran.
And the spread of nuclear expertise could be even worse than we've imagined: In recent days, the Institute for Science and International Security concluded that an international black market run by nuclear outlaw A. Q. Khan not only sold bomb-related parts but also acquired blueprints for an advanced nuclear weapon - the kind of sophisticated weapon that could fit in the back of an SUV.
"These advanced nuclear weapons designs may have long ago been sold off to some of the most treacherous regimes in the world," ISIS chief David Albright wrote.
That could put one or more rogue nations - or terrorist groups - years closer to developing a usable nuclear weapon.
Khan is the former Pakistani atomic scientist who peddled nuclear technology on the black market to North Korea, Iran and Libya and probably others. He was caught in early 2004 and placed under house arrest by President Pervez Musharraf. Since then, the U.S. has asked repeatedly to directly interrogate him. The Pakistan government has refused.
The Pakistanis say they've fully interrogated Khan, but the Albright report puts the lie to that. Albright said that International Atomic Energy Agency officials confronted Pakistan's government shortly after discovering that Khan had possessed the advanced nuclear blueprints.
The reaction of those Pakistan officials? "They were genuinely shocked," Albright said in the ISIS report. They realized, he wrote, that "the designs had to be from their nuclear weapons arsenal."
So Khan didn't tell Pakistan officials everything. Or maybe the Pakistan government didn't ask. Remember, the Pakistan government line has always been that Khan was a rogue agent and Pakistan's government and powerful military had no hint of what he was doing. That's always been hard to swallow.
Khan's still under house arrest, though he has been angling to be set free by the new Pakistani government.
Set him free? The Pakistanis can't do that. They need to serve him up for interrogation by the U.S. Khan is a nuclear criminal who has made the world immeasurably more dangerous. The ISIS report gives reason to believe he knows more than he's been saying. The world needs to know what Khan has been hiding.