Insights from the Gore trip

USA TODAY, July 24, 1998

White House reporter Bill Nichols is traveling with Vice President Gore in Russia. What follows are questions from readers and answers from Nichols filed from the road:

How many nuclear weapons continue to exist in Russia, the U.S., and elsewhere? -- Ellen Thomas, Washington D.C.

There are five acknowledged nuclear powers - the U.S., Britain, France, China and Russia. India and Pakistan crashed that club earlier this year, though neither yet possess nuclear ballistic missiles. And a number of other countries - Israel for example - are assumed to have nuclear capability, though it's never been officially stated.

Thousands and thousands of nuclear warheads remain in the U.S. and Russia, despite significant arms control progress. A potential nightmare scenario remains, particularly if terrorists were to gain access to nuclear weapons.

NOTE: Answering a July 20, 1998, USA Today invitation to "Ask your question here," Ellen had asked:

1. Would the Russian government and people be willing to eliminate all their nuclear weapons if everyone else does? (See HR-827 in U.S. Congress.)

2. How much money is and has been invested in the Russian nuclear weapons program? India's? Pakistan's? Israel's? France's? UK's? China's? (The U.S. conservatively, has spent $5.5 trillion on nuclear weapons, according to the Brookings Institute and several news agencies.)

3. How many nuclear weapons continue to exist in Russia, the U.S., and elsewhere?

4. Were the Russian "suitcase nuclear bombs" ever found? (General Lebed said 100 were lost.)

5. Would Russia be willing to make a global agreement to stop the sale or transportation of weapons from one country to another?

6. Would Russia be willing to convert its defense industries into more useful endeavors, if the U.S. and all other military powers will do so?

7. Is Russia officially or unofficially trying to develop alternative energy systems, such as solar, wind, hydrogen, geo-thermal, etc.? Is the U.S.? Who else is?

(It sure would have been nice to get the answers to all the questions! -- et)