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Rotten.com: Was U.K. paper's nuke expose based on joke essay?



The Times of London caused a media sensation this week when it reported:

    http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/0,,2001390014-2001395995,00.html
    The Times discovered the partly burnt documents in a hastily abandoned
    safe house in the Karta Parwan quarter of the city. Written in Arabic,
    German, Urdu and English, the notes give detailed designs for
    missiles, bombs and nuclear weapons. There are descriptions of how the
    detonation of TNT compresses plutonium into a critical mass, sparking
    a chain reaction, and ultimately a thermonuclear reaction.

Rotten.com claims to have analyzed photos of these papers; it reports that 
at least one is a widely-circulated one-page Internet essay spoofing how to 
build a nuclear bomb:

    http://www.dailyrotten.com/archive/159929.html
    Well, this is where it gets a little funny. You see, those words
    appear on a semi-famous document that has made the rounds on the
    Internet since the late 1980's. It's a reprint of a scientific parody
    called "How to Build an Atom Bomb" from a humor newsletter called The
    Annals of Improbable Research (AIR). At the time this document was
    originally written (1979!), the newsletter was called the "Journal of
    Irreproducible Results". (In scientific circles, a finding must be
    reproducible to be considered valid. Hence... well, it's geek humor.
    You understand.)

You can find a copy of the Journal of Irreproducible Results article here:

        http://winn.com/bs/atombomb.html
        The project will cost between $5,000 and $30,000, depending on how
        fancy you want the final product to be. Since last week's column,
        "Let's Make a Time Machine", was received so well in the new
        step-by-step format, this month's column will follow the same
        format.

Other news organizations have reported the existence of other biochemwomd 
evidence in Afghanistan 
(http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A35529-2001Nov15.html), so 
it seems unlikely that the Times relied solely on one printout. Still, if 
the photos that rotten.com reprints are accurate, it's mighty strange. 
Lending support to that theory is this BBC article:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/south_asia/newsid_1657000/1657901.stm
    US Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge said the information could
    have been found on the internet and it did not mean Bin Laden was able
    to build a nuclear device.

Then again, Ridge's colleagues remain plenty worried:

    http://www.wired.com/news/conflict/0,2100,47158,00.html
    But does the al Qaeda terrorist network headed by Osama bin Laden have
    nuclear weapons? Nobody who knows for sure is talking publicly. Yet for
    much of the last decade, government reports and intelligence experts
    have been warning that bin Laden has been trying to build the bomb.

Contrary to what government officials like Ridge have been warning, the 
hardest part seems to be securing the materials. Once you have those, 
building a nuclear bomb appears to be within the grasp of your average 
college physics student:

    http://www.fas.org/nuke/hew/Nwfaq/Nfaq4.html
    Interestingly enough, the United States government conducted a
    controlled experiment called the Nth Country Experiment to see how
    much effort was actually required to develop a viable fission weapon
    design starting from nothing. In this experiment, which ended on 10
    April 1967, three newly graduated physics students were given the task
    of developing a detailed weapon design using only public domain
    information. The project reached a successful conclusion, that is,
    they did develop a viable design (detailed in the classified report
    UCRL-50248) after expending only three man-years of effort over two
    and a half calendar years. In the years since, much more information
    has entered the public domain so that the level of effort required has
    obviously dropped further.

-Declan




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