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SWISS CHEESE DEFENSE FOR NUKE, BIO THREATS

gas_mask.jpgIt's been three years since 9/11 started making America twitch over a potential nuclear or biological terror attack. And still, the U.S. isn't anything close to ready for such an assault.In 2001, "the federal government began passing out pills that may protect against some of the most dangerous effects of radiation. Fourteen states whose residents live near nuclear power plants haven't bothered to accept them," Wired News reports. That's despite the fact that "last year, a report commissioned by Congress recommended that everyone under 40 near a nuclear power plant should have the pills on hand."Despite the efforts of nuclear safety advocates and medical associations, the pills' existance remains fairly obscure. "You sit there scratching your head and say, 'Why aren't they giving it out?'" said Alan Morris, president of Anbex, the only potassium iodide pill manufacturer in the United States. On the biological front, things are a bit different. The federal government has unleashed a torrent of cash for bioterror research -- $7.6 billion, just for next year. But on the nuts-and-bolts of basic defense, giant gaps remain, the Washington Post notes.

Hobbled by budget pressures and day-to-day crises, many health agencies say they cannot comply with federal officials' urgent demands that they gear up for bioterrorism.Overlapping jurisdiction among federal agencies working on biodefenses -- including the departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services -- leads to confusion inside and outside government about who is in charge of preparations for, and response to, bioattacks...Large drug firms with track records of developing medications have little interest in making bioterrorism vaccines and treatments.
The Post notes that "because of the scientific complexities, no technology exists to detect a biological attack as it occurs." But the paper's too nice to say that Biowatch, the sensor program the feds are pushing, is basically useless.Relying on air filters in major cities, Biowatch only detects a large-scale, airborne biological strike -- about the least likely kind. And it only gives information way, way after the fact. "You're getting very little specific data. And it's unclear what you could do with that information that's useful in the middle of an emergency," Peter LeJenue, a biodefense specialist with Potomac Institute for Policy Studies told Defense Tech last year.
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