Yet the instability of the Balkans back then pales before the flashpoint that is today's Middle East. A protest in Syria turned into a civil war, and then a proxy war. It could easily expand into a regional and, in the worst case, global, conflict. Looming in the background of the tense, torturous negotiations yet to come is the reality that despite everyone's best wishes, diplomatic failure is a distinct possibility -- one that could ultimately become synonymous with the atomic unthinkable.
(4) In the bottomless turbulence that defines today's Middle East, the Americans and Russians so far seem to retain some shreds of rationality. But given the Peaceful Atom's half century of weapons-grade proliferation, we cannot know which nations or marginal groups might now have atomic devices and what random impulses might prompt their use.
In a profoundly unpredictable world, each of the more than 400 commercial-sized reactors still operating continues to produce radioactive materials that could fuel a nuclear weapon.
Each of those reactors is itself a profoundly vulnerable target. Should the situation in Syria devolve to a wider war, the likelihood of a freelance atomic "situation" becomes all too probable.
(5) While the world's attention is focused on Syria, the global-scale disaster at Fukushima spirals out of control.
The more serious the crisis in Syria, the more it will divert attention from an existing nuclear disaster.
Millions of tons of heavily contaminated water continuously flow through the site in central Japan and into the Pacific Ocean. Millions more accumulate in flimsy tanks already breaking apart, all within the specter of the next earthquake.
The three melted cores at Fukushima Daiichi have yet to be found. The common radioactive waste pool near Unit Four is surrounded by buildings whose foundations are being undermined by the continuous flow of radioactive water.
Most terrifying, the entire core of Unit Four remains perched in a damaged fuel pool 100 feet in the air, atop a structure that's sinking. Should it crash to the ground, that core could potentially spew into the ocean and atmosphere more than 20,000 times the radiation released at Hiroshima.
A sane species would be pouring all its resources into somehow healing the open apocalyptic wound that still festers at Fukushima.
Yet we are tied up in Syria. We can be deeply grateful that the situation there today seems at least slightly less dangerous than it did yesterday.
But atomic danger lurks without warning in every facet of this crisis.
1 | 2