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'Countdown to Zero' Calls for Action on Nuclear Weapons

  • Penelope Poulou

'Countdown to Zero' explores a volatile world filled with terrorists, rogue nations and opportunists who want to acquire nuclear weapons.

Producer of 'An Inconvenient Truth' warns of terrorist risk, ambitions of rogue nations

Lucy Walker's new documentary "Countdown to Zero" reminds us that nuclear weapons are not relics of the of Cold War.

The film contends that in a volatile world filled with terrorists, rogue nations and opportunists, it is a matter of time before nuclear weapons get into the wrong hands and wreak havoc.

Lucy Walker offers a chilling description of a nuclear explosion in her documentary "Countdown to Zero," about the threat of nuclear weapons today.

Using scientific records and anecdotal stories of nuclear near misses, Walker shakes up even the most complacent viewer. Walker considers terrorism as the top danger of a nuclear attack, but believes it is not the only one.

"Even if there is no war or no terrorism, there is always the possibility of an accident which unfortunately can never be brought down to zero. And if we've got around 23,000 (nuclear weapons worldwide) of these things in the world as we do today, as time goes on, unfortunately, it is sort of a matter of when, not if," says the filmmaker.

Walker and Lawrence Bender, the Oscar-winning producer of "An Inconvenient Truth," present opinions from 11 former heads of state, nuclear scientists, military officers and others who say that Russia and its surrounding areas are most likely to provide highly-enriched uranium or plutonium to terrorists.

"Various groups have been focused on acquiring weapons of mass destruction, in particular nuclear weapons," says former CIA operative Valerie Plame-Wilson . "Many countries have these materials. And often they are poorly guarded. But if I were a terrorist intending to build a nuclear bomb, and I wanted to blow up a major city, I would look to the countries of the former Soviet Union."

Bender says today's smugglers of nuclear materials are more dangerous than Cold War strategists and diplomats, because they are willing to sell to the highest bidder.

"What we show in the movie is this mindless guy who's trying to make money to buy this nice American car."

The documentary contends that terrorism is not the only threat of a nuclear doomsday.

Nuclear accidents and miscalculations - as the film calls them - can be equally disastrous as in the case of Russia in 1995, when it thought it was being attacked by the U.S. Russia had missed a formal notification that the U.S. would be launching a rocket from Norway to study the Northern lights. The Russian military considered the launch an attack. But, Walker says, then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin refused to believe it.

"Someone says in the movie, 'Yeltsin wasn't drunk and that's the reason we're all here today.' But they opened up the nuclear football and the protocol would have dictated that he did press the button," says Walker. "That's what he should have done according to the playbook."

And then there is the potential of nuclear proliferation by nations that aspire to acquire or build nuclear weapons to increase their diplomatic and political leverage.

"Iran, North Korea. They are prepared to start trading nuclear weapons technology," says former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

If this happens, he says, then the world will become more unstable than it is.

For Lawrence Bender, his documentary's message is clear: Get rid of all nuclear weapons worldwide.

"Now, how does that happen? The United States and Russia, who have 95 percent or more of the world's stockpiles, they need to take the lead," says Bender.

The film uses a John F. Kennedy description in 1961 of the so-called "nuclear sword of Damocles" hanging over our heads to rattle viewers and spur them into action against nuclear proliferation.

And although one could argue that this well-rounded film has a political agenda, it is an agenda that cannot be ignored.