Organization would target nuclear threat

By Pat Murphy
Times-News correspondent

Sunday, December 03, 2000

SUN VALLEY -- Billionaire media mogul Ted Turner is in the process of forming another nonprofit activist organization to tackle major international issues -- this time, threats from nuclear weapons, nuclear waste and black market nuclear missiles.

The new group, Nuclear Threat Initiative, will open for business in January or February, according to former Democratic U.S. Sen. Timothy Wirth, of Colorado, who now heads up Turner's Washington-based United National Foundation and who revealed Turner's plans Saturday at an environmental conference in Sun Valley where he was a major speaker.

Joining the group as its operating head, Wirth said, will be former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, of Georgia, who this week removed himself from consideration as defense secretary in the administration of George W. Bush, if Bush becomes president.

The United Nations Foundation, funded by $1 billion from Turner in Times-Warner stock, was created in 1997 to assist worldwide United Nations programs, especially those involving the environment, children, and population control and family planning.

Wirth said that the new Turner group would target an array of nuclear issues. He said one of them, the "hair-trigger alert" on which thousands of U.S. and Russian missiles are maintained in a Cold War status, continues to pose the major threat to the world. He said Nuclear Threat Initiative would campaign to not only end the war-stance alerts but reduce the number of missiles.

"(George W.) Bush is ahead of Al Gore on this one," Wirth said, alluding to Bush's campaign pledge to reduce the number of U.S. missiles, and instead divert funds to a "Star Wars" anti-missile defense system.

As head of the new Turner anti-nuclear group, Sen. Nunn would bring special credentials for the job. When in the U.S. Senate, Nunn was chairman of the Armed Services Committee, dealing with military issues that included nuclear weaponry.

Wirth said that in addition to nuclear weapons, the new Turner organization would focus on nuclear waste disposal and storage, alternative careers for nuclear scientists who would be displaced by disarmament, the potential for black market trafficking in nuclear weapons from Russia to rogue nations, and nuclear tensions between Pakistan and India.

Wirth asserted that most Americans assume wrongly that the Cold War is over. He said 20,000 nuclear missiles still are active in the world, with about 5,000 of them intercontinental weapons.

He said the "high priests" of nuclear weapons -- military officials and politicians in the West and the East -- are reluctant to give up their power and their arsenals.

Times-News correspondent Pat Murphy can be reached in Ketchum at 726-6423.