The world’s problem with a nuclear Iran isn’t exactly new. We became aware we had the same problem with Nazi Germany in 1939, a year after German experimental physicists proved that nuclear fission of heavy elements, previously only a theory, was a real phenomenon in nuclear physics.
On October 11, 1939 a letter written by Leó Szilárd and signed by Albert Einstein was delivered to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The letter warned, in part, that:
In the course of the last four months it has been made probable — through the work of Joliot in France as well as Fermi and Szilárd in America — that it may become possible to set up a nuclear chain reaction in a large mass of uranium, by which vast amounts of power and large quantities of new radium-like elements would be generated. Now it appears almost certain that this could be achieved in the immediate future.
This new phenomenon would also lead to the construction of bombs, and it is conceivable — though much less certain — that extremely powerful bombs of a new type may thus be constructed. A single bomb of this type, carried by boat and exploded in a port, might very well destroy the whole port together with some of the surrounding territory.
What’s different between then and now is what happened after discovery of the problem. Fortunately for us, back then we had real leaders like Winston Churchill and Theodore Roosevelt, who with the destruction of Germany’s Telemark heavy water plant, including all of its heavy water output, decisively put an end to Hitler’s nuclear aspirations.
Not so fortunately, we are now stuck with Barack (What, me worry?) Obama. God help us, who knows how things will turn out this time, but it looks very much like there is a mushroom cloud in someone’s future.