updated 3/30/2005 8:17:54 PM ET 2005-03-31T01:17:54

Though the Soviet Union is gone, the nuclear fears that fueled the Cold War haven’t disappeared. Most Americans think nuclear weapons are so dangerous that no country should have them, and a majority believe it’s likely that terrorists or a nation will use them within five years.

The Bush administration repeatedly warns about nuclear weapons and is using diplomacy — and force — to try to limit the threat.

Still, North Korea claims it has nuclear weapons now and is making more. Iran is widely believed to be within five years of developing such weapons. And security for the nuclear material scattered across the countries of the old Soviet Union remains a major concern.

Lurking in the background is the threat that worries U.S. officials the most — terrorists’ desire to acquire nuclear weapons.

52 percent say attack likely by 2010
All that helps explain why 52 percent of Americans think a nuclear attack by one country against another is somewhat or very likely by 2010, according to an AP-Ipsos poll. Fifty-three percent think a nuclear attack by terrorists is at least somewhat likely.

Two-thirds of Americans say no nation should have nuclear weapons, including the United States, and most of the others say no more countries should get them.

“I worry about Pakistan and India,” said Barbara Smith, who lives in a Philadelphia suburb. “I don’t know what’s going to happen with Iran, don’t know what’s going to happen with North Korea.”

Smith said she wants to see the spread of nuclear weapons stopped. “It’s too dangerous, too many things can go wrong,” she said.

About one-third of those in an ABC News-Washington Post poll in the mid-1980s — when the Cold War was hot — thought there would be a nuclear war in the next few years between the two superpowers.

The AP-Ipsos poll found 44 percent of those surveyed said they frequently or occasionally worry about a terrorist attack using nuclear weapons, while 55 percent said they rarely or never do.

“Terrorists are more likely to use a nuclear weapon because they are unpredictable,” said John Saint of Syracuse, N.Y., who works for a trucking company.

Susan Winter of McLean, Va., says her awareness of the nuclear threat doesn’t cause her to fret constantly.

“I’m concerned, but I don’t worry about it,” Winter said. “I’m not a nail biter. I don’t lose sleep over it.”

‘The race of our lives’
The United States, Britain, Russia, France and China have nuclear weapons, and Pakistan and India have also conducted nuclear tests. Many believe Israel has nuclear weapons, but that country has never acknowledged it. North Korea claimed in February that it had nuclear weapons.

The threat from nuclear terrorism is greatest, analysts say, because terrorists with nuclear weapons would feel little or no hesitance about using them. That’s why those who monitor nuclear proliferation are so concerned about securing weapons stockpiles and dismantling weapons as quickly as possible.

“We’re in the race of our lives,” said Joe Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “and we’re not running fast enough.”

Generational divide over use
Fears about the use of a nuclear weapon are pretty evenly spread across all age groups. But a generational divide emerges when Americans are asked whether they approve of the United States’ decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan in 1945.

Six in 10 Americans 65 and older approve of the use of the atomic bomb at the end of World War II, while six in 10 from 18 to 29 disapprove.

Albert Kauzmann, a 57-year-old resident of Norcross, Ga., said using the bomb in 1945 “was the best way they had of ending” World War II.

Overall, 47 percent of those surveyed approved of dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki while 46 percent disapproved, according to the poll of 1,000 conducted by Ipsos-Public Affairs from March 21-23 with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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