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New Tech Makes Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Verifiable 93

Posted by Soulskill
from the except-our-super-secret-stealth-nukes dept.
Harperdog writes "In 1999, Senate Republicans rejected the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty on the grounds that it wasn't verifiable. The National Academy of Sciences feels this is no longer true, due to new technology. Quoting: 'Technologies for detecting clandestine testing in four environments — underground, underwater, in the atmosphere, and in space — have improved significantly in the past decade. In particular, seismology, the most effective approach for monitoring underground nuclear explosion testing, can now detect underground explosions well below 1 kiloton in most regions. A kiloton is equivalent to 1,000 tons of chemical high explosive. The nuclear weapons that were used in Japan in World War II had yields in the range of 10 to 20 kilotons.'"
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New Tech Makes Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Verifiable

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  • Subtext (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheSpoom (715771) <slashdot@@@uberm00...net> on Monday April 09, 2012 @05:25PM (#39623469) Homepage Journal

    They rejected the treaty on the ground that they're the United States, and nobody's forcing them to give up their nukes. They just couldn't say that.

    • Re:Subtext (Score:5, Insightful)

      by SomePgmr (2021234) on Monday April 09, 2012 @05:30PM (#39623543) Homepage

      I'd think we could maintain a working stockpile based on modeling and existing test results.

      A test ban seems more like a non-proliferation strategy... which I'd think we would want.

      • I'd think we could maintain a working stockpile based on modeling and existing test results.

        Never worked in IT, have you? :)

        • by SomePgmr (2021234)
          My test restores are somewhat less intrusive than a nuclear detonation. ;)
      • by vlm (69642)

        A test ban seems more like a non-proliferation strategy

        That reaction mechanism seems extraordinarily mysterious to me.

        The standard /. car analogy is if I decide to never again test car air bags, then no one will ever commit suicide by intentionally crashing their car into my car. If I never check the oil level on the dipstick of my car engine, then my neighbor will never purchase oil for his car. If I never check that there is a spare condom in my back seat ashtray (which works a hell of a lot better BTW if you're a non-smoker) then my neighbor will never try

        • by tsotha (720379) on Monday April 09, 2012 @06:08PM (#39624033)

          A test ban would make a nuclear weapons program far less useful for countries that don't already have working designs. You want nuclear weapons for two things: As a deterrent, and for a first strike capability.

          Unproven deterrents aren't very useful. In what world do complicated devices work without ever being tested? A nuke you can't test isn't going to be very scary to your neighbors.

          By the same token, the point of a nuclear first strike is your enemy isn't there to retaliate when you're done. But if you don't know whether or not your weapon works, you can't depend on avoiding payback. So again, an untested weapon isn't useful for a cold-cocking your sworn enemy. If it doesn't work you're going to find yourself without any friends or any way to defend yourself as the rest of the world decides your government is too crazy to be allowed to survive.

          Which leaves... what? Why build one? The states that already have working designs will probably keep them, but if you're running a middle tier (in the economic and technical sense) country a test ban adds some weight to the "Oh, let's not bother" side of the scale.

          • Re:Subtext (Score:4, Informative)

            by gelfling (6534) on Monday April 09, 2012 @06:33PM (#39624405) Homepage Journal

            Rail/gun types of weapons were simple enough in 1945 to not need testing. Trinity was a test of the "Fat Man" plutonium design used on Nagasaki. The Hiroshima uranium design was rushed into deployment in case Trinity didn't work. Hiroshima's 'Little Boy' was never tested and no one seriously thought it NEEDED to be tested.

            By comparison, South Africa built and then abandoned 6 - 9 gun type uranium warheads fully prepared to use them if need be w/o ever having tested them. In fact they never even tested the conventional explosives trigger design either. No need for that, the engineering, chemistry and physics were well understood.

            • by tsotha (720379)

              Having well understood chemistry and physics isn't the same thing as having a working piece of hardware. Rockets have well understood chemistry and physics as well, but new designs rarely work the first time. The fact that the 1945 bombs worked the first time is equal parts luck and the fact that they literally had the smartest people in the world gathered in one place. It should probably be seen as an aberration.

              As to South Africa's weapons, well, we'll never know if they should have been tested or not

              • Re:Subtext (Score:4, Informative)

                by Kell Bengal (711123) on Tuesday April 10, 2012 @01:27AM (#39627507)
                It's perfectly possible to test a gun-type nuclear weapon without actually detonating it. It's simple: test-fire the gun mechanism. If the two non-nuclear test-masses strike each other with the right velocity, then the neutron denstity will instantenously rise far enough to start the critical reaction. Critical reactions have been extensively tested in the past and the operational geometry is well known - it's all about getting the two pieces of uranium close enough together, fast enough.
                • Or, to put it another way "Nuclear fission is just like fire: the secret is to bang the rocks together."
          • The problem comes in when a country has a small number of nukes. If someone was to smuggle a nuke into the US or Europe they could destroy a big city but both he US and Europe would still be able to counter attack. The US and USSR went a little overboard on the number of nukes created and both sides have the capability to destroy not just a city or 2 but an entire country if necessary. That is a true MAD doctrine that has prevented the US and USSR from attacking one another. The problem with Pakistan, NK, a

            • by tsotha (720379)

              It would take time to determine the source of nuke but would the public be willing to retaliate 6 months later with a nuclear reprisal?

              There's no doubt in my mind. In fact, I doubt they'd be willing to wait for absolute certainty.

          • by symbolset (646467) *
            At this point the US designs and test data have probably been stolen so many times that even the Los Alamos crew finds it easier to find them on bittorrent than to locate the proper file in their own system.
          • by Frangible (881728)
            Test ban, shmest ban. After they know you have working nuclear weapons, what are they gonna do? Nothing. Because you've got BASES FULL OF GIANT NUCLEAR MISSILES.

            When India and Pakistan detonated their test nukes, we whined about it, and threw some limp-wristed sanctions on them we gave up a few years later. Didn't exactly make them regret developing them, did it?

            The only value of the knowledge of who has nuclear weapons is who you can't fuck with. You can tattle on them to their mom and the UN, but
            • The truth is, nuclear weapons are a dead-end technology. There is zero point in developing a weapon that is too radiologically dangerous to use tactically, too politically sensitive to use strategically (or tactically, for that matter), and which requires constant monitoring. We now have conventional explosives that rival the power of low-end nukes, and which have only a fraction of the emotional baggage. Simply put, there was more utility in saying "Let's all not make nukes!" for the political gain of b
              • by jafiwam (310805)
                You are a fool if you think the M.A.D. doctrine won't be used somewhere, somehow again. Or, if you think the US isn't going to be on one side of it. A weapon you'll never used still has to work. Any opponent savvy enough to need MAD used against them, is also savvy enough to figure out if our weapons work or not.
                • You are a fool if you think the M.A.D. doctrine won't be used somewhere, somehow again.

                  It's fortunate, then, that that's neither what I said, nor what I think.

                  A nuclear weapon is a deterrent - a political bargaining tool to stop people invading you - that's what it does. As long as you have a couple lying around, your Bomb (capital B) needs are met. You never expect to actually use them, and so long as the ones you have are reliable enough to credibly be expected to work if actually called upon to (and after 40 years of development, we can be sure they are), there really isn't much point i

          • by AmiMoJo (196126)

            A nuke you can't test isn't going to be very scary to your neighbors.

            Even without testing the actual bomb you can prove that the delivery system, the trigger and the nuclear material. You would be mad to write off country that did all that as "not very scary".

            Case in point: Israel. Won't even admit they have nukes, never did any publicly acknowledged tests, never even shown their tech. No-one doubts their capability though.

        • by SomePgmr (2021234)

          I guess I wasn't clear. I meant more like, if you can't detonate, you probably can't do much in the way of developing new weaponry.

          So for those of us that already have more-than-adequate nuclear weaponry, we'd get to sit on what we've got... which is plenty 'nuff to annihilate anything on earth if we wanted to. And assuming we can test by other means, without just detonating the same design over and over again, we're still gtg.

          For additional clarity, I don't know much about the necessity for testing our n

          • by icebrain (944107)

            For additional clarity, I don't know much about the necessity for testing our nukes. If it is genuinely necessary, just to keep everything functional, then I can see why we'd want to avoid getting locked into a defacto disarmament treaty. If it's not, then I don't see why any nation would doubt our ability to deliver.

            The problem is, nuclear devices don't have an unlimited shelf life. They decay, get old, and eventually (like any other bit of machinery) start developing latent failures.

            To mitigate this, the owner of those devices will occasionally have to refurbish them, and eventually replace them, just to keep inventory levels constant. Even if they don't plan to expand the inventory, they will eventually need to develop new designs with improved safety (for those handling them) and reliability. New devices need to

      • Modelling is great but at some point you have to validate the model or you risk compounding problems.

        Aircraft manufacturers use modelling all the time to design aircraft to regulatory requirements, but they still have to validate that model with a wing bend and a fatigue test airframe before the FAA or EASA will certify the aircraft. A failed test will still validate the model, just adjusted for te real world results (the Airbus A380 failed its wing bend at something like 147%, 3% down on requirements, but

        • Nuclear weapons were already small enough you could store one in a suitcase or use them as mortar rounds (see W54). Soon it would be like in Heinlein's Starship troopers where personnel were assigned nuclear hand grenades or somesuch. After all those proxy wars after WWII the two major powers decided to remove all portable nuclear weapons where possible to ensure few people had access to the weapons triggering a conflict of some sort.
    • Re:Subtext (Score:4, Interesting)

      by vlm (69642) on Monday April 09, 2012 @05:30PM (#39623553)

      I think it more reasonable they didn't want to explain we'll never have to use them in war if we know they work via testing, and the opposite is true, if no one knows if they'll work or not, they may as well risk an attack.

      There really seems to be no reason to reduce the reliability of the arsenal other than to eliminate MAD, to make a nuclear war winnable. Its very dangerous to peace not to test.

    • The US very well could and would keep their weapons. Also how much it would actually affect the US weapons is likely not much because it bans physical testing. The US tests its weapons mostly on computers these days. The DoE's supercomputers are powerful enough to simulate the weapons at the atomic level and give really accurate results.

      • by Virtucon (127420) on Monday April 09, 2012 @06:05PM (#39623981)

        At the Atomic museum (Bradbury Science Museum) in Los Alamos there's an old telephone sitting on a desk that acts as the metaphor for how they test the Nuclear Arsenal. "What if you couldn't use the phone but had to make sure it worked?"

        "you could test the bell"
        "you could test the wiring"

        I haven't been there in awhile, but that's what they used to describe how LANL and the other labs insure that when the "phone" needed to be used, it could.

        Frankly, I miss the days when we all worried about "fallout" from the latest Soviet or Chinese tests. Also, my Grandparents lived in Las Vegas and we used to get the "rumbles" when we visited. My Grandfather would say "They just dug another hole"

        • They do that too, component tests, but like I said: They do full blown simulations. Those big DoE supercomputers have a number of uses but what really got them funded was weapons testing. You model everything on that weapon you can, and then simulate it on an atomic scale. As accurate as real testing? No, probably not, but it doesn't generate any nuclear explosion. Also a lot of verification can be done with regards to simulation results vs actual component testing.

    • by gelfling (6534)

      Most countries that claim to have adopted the CTBT have in fact NEVER ratified it.

    • They rejected the treaty on the ground that they're the United States, and nobody's forcing them to give up their nukes. They just couldn't say that.

      The problem with your theory is that it pretty much has nothing to do with facts. The Comprehensive Test Ban wasn't a ban on nukes, it was a ban on nuclear testing.

      Worse for your tinfoil hat view of the world, even though the US hasn't ratified the CTBT, it has acted as if it has and ceased nuclear testing.

    • by PNutts (199112)

      They rejected the treaty on the ground that they're the United States, and nobody's forcing them to give up their nukes. They just couldn't say that.

      Well, considering the US has been giving them up for a long time now and is at last count 8,500, [wikimedia.org] I'm not sure what point you're trying to make.

  • I mean, with the phrase "or any other nuclear explosion" doesn't that imply we're agreeing not to ever use nukes for anything?

    • The new excuse.

      Bu, bu, but . . . this new tech is based on science! The same evil that gave us godless eviloution, inconvenient climate change, unspeakable information about reproduction and people's naughty bits, and god-circumventing treatments for impotence and aids.. Next, you'll be trying to convince us the sun rises in the East.
      • by sconeu (64226)

        Sorry, but treatments for impotence is not circumventing. I have seen no proposals to ban funding for Viagra.

        I believe you mean those evil contraceptives that turns women into sluts.

  • by JimCanuck (2474366) on Monday April 09, 2012 @05:27PM (#39623507)

    Instead of "A kiloton is equivalent to 1,000 tons of chemical high explosive", it would have made more sense, and have been more accurate if instead it was said as "A kiloton is equivalent to 1,000 tons of TNT" which is what the comparison measures.

    Specifics and straight facts makes something news and legitimate, generalizations and omissions make it a tabloid article and misleading.
    • Author should have wrote: "A kiloton is equivalent to 4.184 gigajoules"
      • "Author should have wrote: "A kiloton is equivalent to 4.184 gigajoules""

        Actually, a KT is equivalent to 4.184 terajoules. One ton is equivalent to 4.184 gigajoules...Wikipedia is your friend, you're welcome.

  • by nimbius (983462) on Monday April 09, 2012 @05:28PM (#39623519) Homepage
    as the country with the greatest number of nuclear weapons, lead by example and scrap them. Its some much needed dreaming from an American whos lived his entire life never really knowing a time when we have not had a war in some permutation.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      as the country with the greatest number of nuclear weapons, lead by example and scrap them. Its some much needed dreaming from an American whos lived his entire life never really knowing a time when we have not had a war in some permutation.

      And what makes you think this period in history is any different from any other?

    • Re:just a thought (Score:5, Insightful)

      by vlm (69642) on Monday April 09, 2012 @05:48PM (#39623741)

      lead by example and scrap them

      Lead towards what... I love nukes, they make total world war unthinkable, thats why we don't do it. At the rate of one world war per generation, we're a couple behind now, so we'd have to catch up. The more nukes, the more unthinkable war becomes. The opposite, the fewer nukes, the better idea total world war appears. Given a choice of world war, or nukes, I'd prefer the nukes.

      Getting rid of them dooms my son to die overseas in WWIII... or even worse, die here in WWIII. Seem like a kinda nasty thing to do to a kid, when all you have to do to prevent it, is fill a couple bunkers with nukes.

      Another way to put it is you can either set off non-nuke weapons in bulk about once a generation, or you can not set off nuke weapons. The latter seems preferable.

      • Re:just a thought (Score:4, Insightful)

        by TapeCutter (624760) on Monday April 09, 2012 @07:01PM (#39624755) Journal
        Alfred Nobel, inventor of dynamite and Noble prizes thought that dynamite would end all wars because it was simply too horrific to contemplate it's use in war. Turns out people actually want to do horrible things to their percieved enemies. I lived through the cold war and I don't deny MAD has worked, but it's the diplomatic equivalent of a Mexican standoff, nobody has the faith required to lower their weapons and if one side sneezes were all fucked.
      • by Thing 1 (178996)

        At the rate of one world war per generation [...]

        I would add "since we instituted the most recent central bank in the US."

        • by dwye (1127395)

          Austria and Serbia did NOT go to war over the founding of the Federal Reserve of the United States of America. Neither did the Japanese Empire invade China, or the Third Reich remilitarize the Rhineland, take over Czechoslovakia, and invade Poland, France, Norway, and/or the USSR due to Fed policies.

      • by AmiMoJo (196126)

        Problem is everyone thinks like that, including places like Iran and North Korea. If the US didn't try to police the world and openly talk about invading these countries then perhaps the need for MAD would decrease.

        Having thousands of warheads is excessive anyway. The only countries mad enough to attack you have barely one or two and no means of delivering them yet, and even they only want them as a last resort against a US attack. Obviously they are aware that they can't nuke the US off the face of the pla

      • The more nukes, the more unthinkable war becomes.

        That theory has a single point of failure due to an even better killing machine than nukes: Religion. Who would willingly make the world burn? Those who believe they will be rewarded in the next.

    • Just a note, but Russia has the largest stockpile, not the US.

      • Re:just a thought (Score:4, Informative)

        by buchner.johannes (1139593) on Monday April 09, 2012 @06:20PM (#39624197) Homepage Journal

        Russia: 4650 U.S.: 2468. Number of cities > 1Million people in the world: 302.

        You can't possibly need to attack more than 20 cities with nuclear warheads in whatever the scenario. Place this number in 10 locations around the globe, and you're up to 200. That's the number you really need, max. Beyond that, it's just ridiculous.

        • Re:just a thought (Score:4, Informative)

          by FrankSchwab (675585) on Monday April 09, 2012 @07:12PM (#39624873) Journal

          You don't need to attack 2500 or 4600 cities, but the premise behind the number of warheads is that you WOULD want to attack all of the enemies warheads, and vice-versa. You don't want to leave your enemy with the ability to strike back.

          The goal might be to hit America's 20 largest cities, or Russia's 20 largest cities, but the fact of doing so means that the attacked country is going to be unhappy, and will fire back in anger at your 200 largest cities. So, the intiator fires weapons at their 20 largest cities, all of their strategic bomber bases, any large warships (missile subs, carriers, etc), and as many missile silos as they can to reduce the reprisal factor.

          To prevent all of their offensive weapons from being wiped out, each side has at least a portion of their arsenal on a hair-trigger, capable of being launched in the 30 minute window from enemy launch to impact, to maximize the reprisal they could take. .

          • by Renraku (518261)

            Air burst a few in the upper atmosphere, hit a big city or two. Resume life as usual while they're almost completely without power, infrastructure, and likely don't even know who the fuck hit them.

          • Also you have to remember that a lot of these weapon systems were not exactly reliable or pin point accuracy.

            So while yes, if you get a big enough boom, and aim it at a sufficiently large city, odds are you will hit it. However a lot can go wrong between the red button, and actually detonation. It might not fire. It might not navigate to the correct place. It might not detonate. Also if either side has any missile defense it might knock it down. This is a sort of fight that you get exactly one chance. So in

        • by Alomex (148003)

          Number of cities > 1 Million people in the world: 302.

          Bzzt. Wrong. If you consider the urban agglomeration area, as opposed to some meaningless county/administrative region line, the number of cities with more than 1 Million people is in the order of 800-1000. Assuming you want to hit every city twice, just in case of a dud, you need 2K nuclear warheads.

          • by icebrain (944107)

            But nuclear targeting isn't "lets just hit the biggest cities we can". Rather, you go after significant targets. You don't target the city; you target the railyards, power stations, dams, ports, airfields, and all the other infrastructure that make anything close to modern life possible. Dropping a bomb in the middle of a city isn't going to completely wipe it out, and will leave many of the functioning parts of a country intact

            See, the idea behind a nuclear deterrent is that it will leave targeted natio

            • by Alomex (148003)

              I was following on the logic of the OP, not necessarily advocating a specific number of weapons or even nuclear warfare.

              Dropping a bomb in the middle of a city isn't going to completely wipe it out,

              [citation needed]

    • Re:just a thought (Score:4, Insightful)

      by couchslug (175151) on Monday April 09, 2012 @05:58PM (#39623889)

      Leading by example implies a reason to FOLLOW the example.

      Power is useful, nukes are useful, and if you have them it is illogical to renounce them unless you embrace abject submission to those who have them.

      We are in peaceful times right now. The wars, such as they are, are tiny. MAD kept the peace for decades and prevented a Third World War. Just because the thought of nukes causes you anguish is not logical reason for the US to be rid of them.

      • by Hatta (162192)

        Power is useful, nukes are useful, and if you have them it is illogical to renounce them unless you embrace abject submission to those who have them.

        I assume you are in favor of Iran and North Korea developing nuclear weapons then? It would be illogical for either country to renounce them, correct?

        • There are at least 2 arguments for not letting Iran & North Korea get nukes.

          The US has a tolerable record of not threatening, taunting, and insulting other countries. Iran and North Korea do misbehave in that manner, and their current leaders are obvious psychopaths.

          It is an advantage for any country to have nuclear weapons, a disadvantage to be without. The US should want to maintain an advantage over all other countries, particularly over the vile and dangerous ones. The US should not be in the busine

          • by Jeremi (14640)

            The US should not be in the business of caring what Iran and North Korea want.

            Fair enough, but by the same token Iran and North Korea are not in the business of caring what the US wants. So expecting those countries to abandon their nukes just because that would make things simpler for the US is expecting too much.

            As a further note, consider that the behavior of Iran and particularly North Korea can hardly be considered logical, as evidenced by widespread poverty.

            Widespread poverty could be just as easily explained by the harsh economic sanctions that have been in place against both for quite a while now. I suppose you could say that the logical thing would be for those government to knuckle under and do whatever the US (et al) wa

          • by mvdwege (243851)

            The US has a tolerable record of not threatening, taunting, and insulting other countries.

            American Exceptionalism at its finest. Go look at your history: Central and South America, the Phillipines, Cuba, Vietnam and Iraq beg to differ. And that's only the ones that suffered outright violence from US meddling.

            Mart

          • The US has a tolerable record of not threatening, taunting, and insulting other countries.

            Come off it... you lot just invade them on false pretences instead... and if you can't get away with it, you force loans upon them with provisos that the money be spent on things sourced from USA and paid back at rip off rates and also leverage the loans to get preferential treatment... google "confessions of an economic hitman", watch the video and marvel at just what dirty tricks are being carried out behind your bac

          • by Hatta (162192)

            The US has a tolerable record of not threatening, taunting, and insulting other countries.

            Are you fucking kidding me?

    • by Hatta (162192)

      The real hypocrisy here is the country with the greatest number of nuclear weapons is insisting that other countries not attempt to get any for themselves. The number one reason Iran, North Korea, etc, want nuclear weapons is to defend themselves from US. If you don't want Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we need to divest ourselves of our own as quickly as possible.

      • while I agree nuclear disarment worldwide to include us, two points: 1. it is the Russians, not us that has the most nuclear weapons (we run #2), the point is almost moot because both nations have enough to nuke the world over.(both are cold war legacies). 2. Unilateral disarment does NOT solve the problem, merely leaves us vulnerable. The solution is MUTUAL disarment as negotiated via talks and treaties with all nations with nuclear weapons programs. Given before hand, there was some skeptacism that a m
      • by neonv (803374)

        The US was and still is at war with North Korea, and has not used nuclear weapons. The US uses nuclear weapons only to deter others using nuclear weapons, as does Russia, China, Israel, etc. There's a long history to prove that. North Korea continues to use unwarranted aggression against South Korea rather than pursue peace. Not the kind of country I trust with nuclear weapons. In addition, it's led by a dictator who is worshiped like a God by his loyal citizens. Again, scary person to have nuclear ar

      • Umm... Even if the United States removed every last nuclear weapon they have, Iran and North Korea would still want nukes to protect themselves, because the United States possesses enough CONVENTIONAL firepower to level both countries.
  • When the US protested France performing their last tests in the mid 90's, France's rationale was that the US had supercomputer simulations that replaced real testing and no one else had that compute power. This is no longer the case. Any reasonably advanced country can lash together enough cheap gear to build a supercomputer powerful enough to run simulations. Now - do they have the programming expertise sufficient to build models that work well? That's another question but one largely beyond the scope an

  • I would like to see us send missions to mars, but include a nuke. Once arriving at Mars, send the nuke to the far side and blow it. Yes, I am well aware that we are part of space treaty. However, at some point, we need to test our nukes. It is foolish to not do so.
  • As an IT professional, I worked on the verification system for the Prototype International Data Centre during 1999 when the Senate Republicans (and Clinton) rejected the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty on the grounds that it wasn't verifiable. I was also working there in 1998 when within 15 minutes of it happening my pager went off when Pakistan and then India did their tests (thank goodness it wasn't data corruption!). While I'm no PhD and pretty much everyone else was (international group represente
    • by Ceallach (24667)

      I worked at AFTAC in the 80's, and they've been able monitor this stuff since the 70's.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_Force_Technical_Applications_Center

  • Useless. Everyone knows Iran has now stuffed their entire bedrock full of styrofoam packing peanuts.
  • and unduly constrains the US (and others) in the future. How many tests have there been since the late1990s? Other than NK nothing since the tit for tat Pakistan/India tests in 1998. That was... hmm.. 13+ years ago?

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