Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Presidential Ignorance of Basic Science and History

Some people wonder why we require general education classes in the sciences, but there was a perfect example in the news over the last few days, where the President repeated a statement that reflects the height of ignorance of what is secret and what is widely and publicly known about how to manufacture nuclear weapons.

The President "thinks" that the US can prevent Iran from learning how to enrich Uranium. This is silly, because the US told Iran and the rest of the world exactly how to enrich Uranium in a book published over 60 years ago. A book distributed widely by the US as part of the Atoms for Peace program.

Lets look at the statements that have been made. Quoting directly from the White House transcriipt of the interview, confirmed from the NBC video of the interview by Richard Engel, we see the following:

Q Repeatedly you've talked about Iran and that you don't want to see Iran develop a nuclear weapon. How far away do you think Iran is from developing a nuclear capability?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, Richard, I don't want to speculate -- and there's a lot of speculation. But one thing is for certain -- we need to prevent them from learning how to enrich uranium. And I have made it clear to the Iranians that there is a seat at the table for them if they would verifiably suspend their enrichment. And if not, we'll continue to rally the world to isolate them.

I don't know why the Attorney we taxpayers support to advise the President thought this needed to be broadcast so badly that he complained to NBC, since all it shows is that the President has no idea what he is talking about with respect to nuclear proliferation. (It also shows that the President never answered the question or gave one of several good reasons for not answering it.) This is not the first time he showed this level of ignorance of three basic facts:

1) Iran says it already knows how to enrich Uranium

2) We (the US government) told them at least two ways to do it

3) One of our allies in the War on Terror told them the details of another

Item number 2 is the most important of these, because it makes it quite clear that there has been no secret about how to enrich uranium since the Smyth report was published in 1945. This book was printed and widely distributed by the US government since 1945 and is still available in bookstores and on the web. The key elements of relevance here are also described in detail in various histories of the Manhattan Project, most notably the books by Richard Rhodes.

The President may not know how to enrich Uranium, but we told the entire world how to do it over sixty years ago, and in quite a lot of detail. (According to the histories based on KGB archive records, one of the facts sought by Soviet spies in the late 1940s was whether everything in that report was true. They assumed it had to be misinformation when it went into such detail about key processes such as gaseous diffusion. They could not believe we published that info and distributed it to them in book form.)

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