[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/04/24/nuclear.pakistan/art.troops.jpg caption="Pakistan has deployed paramilitary troops to a district taken over by the Taliban."]
Tom Foreman | Bio
If the Taliban continues its pressure on Pakistan, the single most pressing question for all other nations is what happens to the nukes?
Pakistan has long been believed to keep its warheads disassembled, with the parts spread among a half dozen undisclosed locations. In theory, that means even if Taliban fighters seized sizable portions of the country and the capital, Islamabad, they still might not have a nuclear weapon. Furthermore, even if they captured all the right parts for a warhead, they might not have the expertise to assemble one.
That’s the good news.
The bad news: The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and others say Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are primarily made with highly enriched uranium. Pound for pound, it is less powerful than plutonium, but while plutonium requires a sophisticated implosion device to set it off, highly enriched uranium can be detonated with a much lower-tech, cannon-like device. And the Taliban may be capable of making one of those.
What’s more, Carnegie’s James Acton says while most major nation’s have equipment in their air, rail and seaports to detect plutonium, should someone try to smuggle a weapon across a border, highly enriched uranium gives off a much weaker radioactive signal and is easier to hide.
Military experts have suggested there is little doubt, if the Taliban effectively took over Pakistan, that targeted strikes by western powers and their allies would quickly destroy virtually all of that country’s conventional large weaponry, eliminating much of the ability to deliver a barrage of nuclear warheads elsewhere.
The problem is, should the Taliban get nukes, it would not need missiles, planes, or ships to use them to devastating effect. The mere threat of this extremist group secretly transporting a single nuclear bomb into neighboring Afghanistan or India, let alone to more distant lands, would have a massive impact on international security and relations. Let alone the extraordinary concerns of them bartering such weapons into the hands of other terrorist groups.
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