Wednesday, July 21, 2004

New Book Says U.S. Cities Vulnerable to Terrorist Attack with Improvised Nuclear Weapons

  William's Note:  This book can be download from
CNS. The Center is an excellent resource for terrorism studies


New Book Says U.S. Cities Vulnerable to Terrorist Attack with Improvised Nuclear Weapons

By Charles D. Ferguson, William C. Potter, with Amy Sands, Leonard S. Spector, and Fred L. Wehling
June 18, 2004
The Four Faces of Nuclear Terrorism, a new book from the Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), warns that substandard security at nuclear facilities in Europe, Central Asia, Russia, and Pakistan increases the risk of terrorists seizing highly enriched uranium to make crude, but devastating, nuclear explosives. Led by CNS Director William Potter and CNS Scientist-in-Residence Charles Ferguson, a team of researchers, including Leonard Spector, Amy Sands, and Fred Wehling, conducted a two-year study of the motivations and capabilities of terrorist organizations to carry out attacks using stolen nuclear weapons, to construct and detonate crude nuclear weapons known as improvised nuclear devices (INDs), to strike nuclear power plants and other nuclear facilities, and to build and use radiological weapons or "dirty bombs."
Dr. Potter and Dr. Ferguson maintain that there is a greater likelihood today than any time in the past three decades that nuclear weapons will actually be used. This stark assessment is based upon two premises: (1) non-state actors have emerged who seek nuclear weapons in order to use them; and (2) crude but real nuclear weapons, as distinct from radiological dispersal devices, are well within the technical reach of some terrorist organizations.
The book, funded by the Ploughshares Fund, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), urges the United States and its international partners to take immediate steps to prevent the most catastrophic forms of nuclear terrorism and to reduce the consequences of the most likely nuclear terror attacks. Priority tasks include securing and reducing tactical nuclear warheads in Russia; securing, consolidating, and eliminating highly enriched uranium (HEU); and providing for secure storage and disposal of radioactive materials used in medicine, scientific research, and industry. The book also stresses the need to educate the public on the real risks of radiation exposure and radioactive contamination to help psychologically immunize citizens against fear of radiological attacks, which the researchers conclude are all but inevitable in the coming years.
The book strongly urges the United States and international partners to work immediately to reduce the probability of nuclear terror acts with the highest consequences and mitigate the consequences of the nuclear terror acts that are the most probable.
The book's highest priority recommendations include:

Put HEU First. The United States must dramatically revise U.S. efforts to protect fissile materials abroad so as to make securing, consolidating, and eliminating highly enriched uranium (HEU) the leading and most urgent task, taking clear precedence over addressing the dangers posed by plutonium, which must, nonetheless, remain an important priority. The overarching principle guiding policy should be to move toward a world in which fewer countries retain HEU, fewer facilities within countries possess HEU, and fewer locations within those facilities have HEU present.

Reduce Nuclear Risks in South and Central Asia. The United States and its allies must recognize that for the moment, the locus of greatest nuclear terror danger is South and Central Asia, a zone where Islamic militant terrorist groups are very active and where the risk of their gaining access to nuclear materials - especially from unreliable elements within the Pakistan establishment or from certain vulnerable sites in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan - is highest.

Secure Vulnerable Russian Nuclear Weapons. The United States and Russia must secure Russia's most vulnerable nuclear weapons, in particular those tactical nuclear weapons that are forward-deployed and portable and that may lack internal locks, known as permissive action links.

Prepare for Radiological Attack. The use of radioactive materials to cause massive disruption and economic loss is by far the most likely nuclear terror act. Although loss of life and destruction of property would not begin to rival that from a nuclear detonation, the harm caused would be grievous, particularly if radiological attacks were launched in multiple locations. Given the significant quantities of radioactive material currently outside regulatory control around the world, the unambiguous evidence of terrorist interest in using these materials to cause harm, and the ease of carrying out a radiological attack, we believe that such an attack is all but inevitable. Thus, even as the United States pursues measures to reduce the availability of radioactive materials, it should greatly increase its preparations for a radiological terror event through the following measures.

Improve Protection of Nuclear Facilities against Attack or Sabotage. The United States must increase preparedness to address more demanding threats - 9/11 type attacks -- than believed to be incorporated in current regulations. Moreover, similar to the nuclear industry's preparation for beyond design-basis accidents, the NRC and the nuclear industry must expedite preparedness for beyond design-basis attacks or sabotage of nuclear facilities.

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