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Nuclear arsenals at risk for Year 2000 computer bug

A missile being fired
CNN's Rick Lockridge reports on the possible problem
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November 12, 1998
Web posted at: 11:31 p.m. EDT (2331 GMT)

From Correspondent Rick Lockridge

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- For nuclear weapons to work as designed, a lot of things have to go right -- targeting, launching, delivery. All of those steps are controlled by computer chips, and all of those chips need to work together harmoniously.

Reliance on thousands of chips and millions of lines of computer code could make nuclear weapons especially vulnerable to the Year 2000 computer bug.

A new report by a group opposing nuclear weapons, the British American Security Information Center, claims the Defense Department will be unable to stop the Y2K bug from infesting thousands of nuclear weapons all over the world.

The report singles out American submarine-based missiles and intercontinental ballistic missiles, as well as Russian land-based nuclear weapons. But the center claims that China and all other nuclear powers will also have problems with the bug.

The group recommends deactivating all nuclear weapons before January 1, 2000, so there is no chance of an unanticipated nuclear disaster.

chip replacement
The Pentagon says nuclear command centers have been top priority for fixing potential Y2K problems  

"This would get rid of, completely, the fear of surprise attack," said Michael Kraig, the report's author.

Pentagon officials responsible for dealing with the Y2K bug declined to comment directly on the report. But a Pentagon spokeswoman told CNN that "nuclear command and control centers have been given the highest priority, and we feel that we are in pretty good shape there."

No one knows for sure whether or how the Y2K bug might affect nuclear weapons -- and no one will know until the calendar turns.

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