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NUKE STOCKPILES ON THE RISE

m_cloud.jpgIt ain't over. No matter what Iran decides to do about its nuclear program, the chances of radioactive material getting into dangerous hands are continuing to rise.The latest evidence: a report in this month's Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which says that by "the end of 2003 there were more than 3,700 metric tons of plutonium and highly enriched uranium" scattered around the world. That's "enough for hundreds of thousands of nuclear weapons, in about 60 countries."And those numbers are growing. Every year, the worldwide amount of plutonium increases by 70-75 metric tons, according to the Bulletin, mostly from "irradiated fuel discharged from nuclear power reactors." It's a number that's "not expected to decrease in the next 15 years."The report does contain a bit of good news, however, on the uranium front. About 50 metric tons of highly-enriched, or weapons-grade, uranium, were in "civil research and power reactor programs as of the end of 2003." But that number has fallen, as a result of an American government effort, Reduced Enrichment for Research and Test Reactor. The program tries to convince other countries to use uranium in their reactors that's not so suitable for bomb-making purposes. Still, those 50 or so tons are really only a drop in the nuclear bucket. There are over 1,900 metric tons of highly-enriched uranium in military programs across the globe.

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