The Imminent Threat
While nuclear terrorism has been a significant concern of government officials over the last decade, the threat is continually burgeoning, more alarmingly now than ever before. Amidst tumultuous global conditions—with the situations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, and Syria, among others—the US has begun losing some of its prestige, stamina, and amicable relations with other international actors. Though the US is still arguably the most powerful nation in the world, its recent actions and reputation have made it more vulnerable to an outside attack.
Several policy makers and scholars, including Graham Allison, Charles Ferguson, and William ...view middle of the document...
One major reason fueling the fear behind this type of attack is the relative ease with which terrorists or other actors may acquire nuclear materials. The most dangerous scenario would involve a terrorist organization purchasing a nuclear weapon from another state, for instance the United States or Russia. Though not likely, this method is certainly possible, considering the numerous unaccounted for highly portable nuclear weapons from the former Soviet arsenal (Allison, 2004). As Allison points out, even a US-deemed “excellent performance” by the Russian state, involving 99 percent recovery of the 22,000 nuclear weapons, leaves 220 weapons lost, stolen, or missing (2004). The threat of these misplaced devices is troublesome, especially as Russian military personnel, despite Russian denial, have evidently sold these weapons to non-state actors for personal gains (Allison, 2004). More recently, Russia has also expressed its unwillingness to relocate all of its nuclear weapons to storage or remove them from the front lines, indicating a lack of cooperation with US efforts to prevent apprehension and implementation of a nuclear weapon by a rogue actor (Ferguson and Potter, 2004).
Another possibility for attack would include the acquisition of highly enriched uranium or plutonium for use in a crude nuclear device. This route is arguably the most feasible for terrorists, with the huge quantities of weapons-useable fissile material in Russia, as well as North Korea, Pakistan, Ukraine, Belarus, Uzbekistan, and other former Soviet states (Ferguson and Potter, 2004). In North Korea, violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty has resulted in an extensive uranium and plutonium enrichment program with facilities capable of producing about twelve nuclear warheads each year (Allison, 2004). The state’s leadership has also openly admitted its intentions of selling fissile material to whoever can afford it, which could have grave consequences for the US. Pakistan also presents a distressing situation, with its nuclear stockpile perceived to contain fifty weapons and enough enriched uranium for fifty more, in addition to production lines supplying up to ten new bombs annually (Allison, 2004). The state’s nuclear mastermind, A. Q. Khan, has helped develop clandestine networks and worrisome international partnerships with North Korea, China, Malaysia, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (Ferguson and Potter, 2004). In 2001, the state was named the “number one nuclear proliferator,” sparking serious concern about how Al Qaeda and its active allies in Pakistan may be accessing and further spreading this nuclear technology and material (Allsion, 2004, 75).
Yet another course for terrorists might entail a strike against a nuclear facility or power plant. Although many fuel pools and research reactors were designed for security, they are not generally equipped to withstand the intensity of a high level terrorist...