Will Terrorists Attack Manhattan with a Nuclear Bomb?

Recently, a friend of mine who lives in Manhattan posed to me the question of whether she should be afraid of living there due to the threat of terrorists setting off a nuclear bomb. As I feel this is a question that has plagued many people, I decided to do a little bit of research and compose a brief analysis of the situation. Please keep in mind that I am not an expert in terrorism, and my calculations should be taken with a grain of salt. The situation is very complex, there are many unknowns and potential sources for error, and I ended up having to rely on some guesswork. Nonetheless, I hope that my analysis is helpful to others who are interested in this question, or who find themselves living in constant fear of a nuclear weapon being detonated in their city.

1. Do terrorist groups want to nuke the United States?

It seems that yes, there are groups that would be willing to do this. According to the Report of the Commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism, “At the moment, al Qaeda is judged to be the sole terrorist group actively intent on conducting a nuclear attack against the United States.” Of course, it is impossible to rule out the possibility that other groups are also seeking to do this. I’m going to work under the assumption that Al Qaeda and those groups tightly connected to it are the only ones that would have the interest and/or capabilities of actually plotting such an attack at this time.

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2. Where would terrorists get nuclear weapons?

Genuine nukes of great destructive power are quite difficult to build, and cost estimates for building full scale weapons (of the 25-35 kiloton variety) seem to be > $5 Billion. Furthermore, such weapons would likely take longer than a decade to build from scratch (though these numbers are a bit old, so the process may have become cheaper as technology has progressed). Hence, it seems highly likely that if terrorists intended to use such a weapon they would steal them, buy them, or get them through strategic arrangements with governments that already have them. Of course, different types of weapons with different yields would have different costs associated with them, and the amount of time that it would take for construction depends on the scale of the project (with more resources and more scientists it would likely go faster). Some people fear that there may be poorly controlled nuclear weapon materials in Russia (such as bomb-grade uranium). Others fear that nukes could be stolen from Pakistan, in part because of the country’s potential instability, and also because it is possible that Al Qaeda is conducting operations there. Iran also could be a potential source of danger, in part because it is run by a religious zealot and it is unclear how far he would be willing to take his anti-American sentiments.

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3. What sort of weapons would terrorists be likely to use?

It would be far, far easier to attack the U.S. with a dirty bomb (a conventional bomb laced with radioactive material in a manner such that the material is spread by the blast) than with a full scale nuclear weapon since dirty bombs are so much easier and cheaper to construct or acquire. Such an operation would also seem to have a much greater chance of succeeding than use of a true nuclear bomb since it does not require recruiting high level nuclear scientists, massive deal making with large nations for supplies, or a laboratory which must be kept secret for a decade or more. The supplies for the construction of dirty bombs are relatively easy to obtain, though these weapons have far less destructive capability than true nukes. There has been at least one known plot (in actuality, probably more like two or three) to detonate a dirty bomb in the United States.

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4. If terrorists did choose to attack the United States with nuclear weapons, how likely would they be to choose Manhattan as their target?

It seems quite likely that if terrorists attempted a nuclear attack on the United States, it would be carried out in either Manhattan or Washington DC. Manhattan is an obvious choice because the County of New York is the most densely populated county in the country, so damage and chaos could be maximized , and because Manhattan has enormous importance to the U.S. economy. DC is also a natural choice because of the opportunity it might provide terrorists to disrupt government operations. That being said, the United States is a huge place, and it is possible that for logistical reasons terrorists might find New York difficult. If I had to put a probability on it, I would guess that there might be a 3 in 10 chance that Manhattan would be chosen as a target.

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5. If terrorists attacked Manhattan with nukes, how bad would it be?

The worst case scenario pretty much would be the detonation of a nuclear bomb (hidden in a truck or in an ocean shipping container). One source (a report by Ira Helfland, head of emergency medicine at Cooley Dickinson Hospital) estimates that a 12.5 kiloton bomb of this nature “smuggled into the port of New York aboard a shipping container and detonated at ground level” would end up killing approximately 260,000 people (about 52,000 of them would die immediately as a consequence of the blast, 10,000 would die soon after from direct radiation exposure, and the remainder would die from nuclear fallout). The study says that that several hundred thousand more would become sick from radiation sickness. There are about 1.6 million residents in Manhattan, which balloons to about 3 million during the day from people traveling into Manhattan. If we assume that the attack occurred during the day (when population densities are highest), and that in total 600,000 either die or get very sick, and that about 2.5 million people are in Manhattan at that moment (since some commuters will have left before the moment the attack occurred, or not arrived yet), then you would have about a 25% chance of dying or becoming seriously ill.

What about the case of a dirty bomb attack? In this case, it’s most likely that fewer than 10,000 people would die or become seriously ill, leaving a probability of less than 0.5% of sickness or death.

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6. What have known terrorists plots on the united states been like?

Since 9/11 muslim extremists have concocted at least fifteen thwarted plots to carry out terrorist attack in U.S. In fact, the true number is probably quite a bit higher than this. The plots that I was able to find by conducting a few quick searches were:

-Shoe bomb in plane.

-Attempted construction of a dirty bomb.

-Blowtorches to collapse brooklyn bridge.

-Attack New York Stock Exchange and construct a dirty bomb.

-Bomb subway station Near Madison Square Garden.

-Assassinate diplomat with grenade launcher.

-Attack national guard facilities, synagogues and other places in Orange County, CA.

-Plot to blow up wyoming natural gas refinery, the transcontinental pipeline, and the NJ Standard Oil Refinery.

-Potential planned attack on the U.S. Capitol and World Bank headquarters.

-Blow up Sears Tower and FBI offices.

-Attack underground transit links connecting to New Jersey.

-Blow up ten commercial airliners.

-Attack U.S. Army base Fort Dix in New Jersey with assault rifles and grenades.

-Blow up jet fuel artery that runs through residential neighborhoods at JFK international airport.

-Attack the Empire State Building and U.S. nuclear power stations.

Note that all of these attacks have been thwarted, either by the incompetence of the perpetrators, or by effective government work. The only “successful” attacks since September 11, 2001 (that might potentially be considered terrorist attacks) that I managed to find in my quick searches were:

-An Egyptian gunman opens fire at an El Al ticket counter in Los Angeles International Airport, killing two Israelis before being killed himself.

-Joel Henry Hinrichs III detonated a bomb near the packed football stadium at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma killing himself in the process.

-Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar, an Iranian-born graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, drives an SUV onto a crowded part of campus, injuring nine.

-An Afghani Muslim hit 19 pedestrians, killing one, with his SUV in the San Francisco Bay area.

-A man attacks Fort Hood with guns, shooting 44 people.

Something to notice here is that most of these attacks on the U.S. since 9/11 have failed or were foiled, and most of the ones that haven’t failed were relatively small scale. What’s more, all of the attacks listed are much, much less complex and difficult and expensive to pull off than building/acquiring, transporting and detonating a full scale nuclear bomb.

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7. What is the (very roughly) estimated probability that a person living in Manhattan will die or become seriously injured/sick by a nuclear weapon attack within the next ten years?

This estimate will of course be very crude and inaccurate, but here goes. First lets consider the case of a full nuclear bomb attack. If such an attack occurred in the U.S. and went according to plan, there might be something like a 3 in 10 chance that it would target Manhattan. The chance of death or serious injury depends a lot on the strength of the bomb, but if we assume a large bomb of about 12.5 kilotons this might give a person in Manhattan a 1 in 4 chance of avoiding serious physical harm. What would the probability be that such a plan would be foiled by the government or botched by the perpetrators? The odds seem very good of this happening, as a great number of much simpler attacks that would involve many fewer people have failed. In fact, only about 1 in 5 of the attacks I managed to find information about succeeded, and the ones that DID succeed were some of the very simplest to organize. I would guess that the odds of the success of a full scale nuclear bomb attack are something like 1 in 100. If this seems low, keep in mind that this figure has to take into account the odds that the terrorists fail to acquire or build the bomb despite their attempts, that they run out of funding, that their facilities are discovered and raided, that their bomb is discovered during transportation, that their bomb fails to detonate, that members of their team lose their nerve, that they can’t get the bomb into the U.S., etc.

The next thing to estimate are the odds that SOME terrorist group is actually attempting to plan an attack like this. The plot would be very difficult and expensive to pull off, but on the flip side, would be massively effective at injuring the U.S. (through death, illness, property damage, and widespread panic), so the difficulty might be balanced to some degree in the terrorists minds by the potential damage caused. The enormous potential cost of this project and the expertise required may well be prohibitive though, so I’ll place the odds that Al Qaeda or a closely linked group would pursue completing this project within the next ten years rather arbitrarily at 1 in 10. Here I am assuming that only Al Qaeda terrorist group would even be willing to attempt such a project. All in all, this very crude estimate indicates that the likelihood that terrorists attempt to attack the U.S. with a full scale nuclear bomb, actually succeed in this plan, carry out this attack in Manhattan, and kill any one particular Manhattan resident (chosen at random) is about 1 in 13,300 (over a ten year estimated period). To put this in perspective, the chance that you eventually die of a car accident (rather than other potential causes of death) is about 1 in 6,800.

On the other hand, dirty bomb scenarios are far more likely to be carried out successfully, and far more likely to be attempted (in fact, they already have been) but are unlikely to actually kill or seriously harm a randomly selected person in Manhattan. We can estimate that, once again, there might be a 3 in 10 chance that such an attack (if it occurred) would occur in Manhattan, that if it did happen in Manhattan each individual would have less than a 1 in 200 chance of incurring serious harm (let’s say for the sake of argument that the most likely number is something like 1 in 400), that such an attack might be planned twice in the next 10 years, and that the chance of success for such an attack might be 1 in 10. These give us odds that a single, predetermined person in Manhattan would suffer serious physical harm from a dirty bomb at about 1 in 6,600. This number is also on the order of the chance of eventually dying from a car accident.

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8. How much should we fear nuclear terrorist attacks if we live in Manhattan?

From the simplistic analysis carried out above, the answer seems to be that Manhattan residents (who plan on staying in Manhattan for just ten more years) shouldn’t fear nuclear terrorism all that much more than a randomly selected American should fear the possibility of dying of a car accident at some point in their life. One thing that may be worth pointing out is that even if a nuclear weapon did kill us, there is some chance (dependent on the characteristics of that weapon) that it would do so fairly instantaneously, meaning that we would be dead before having much opportunity to suffer or even notice, which seems a lot less horrible than a slow death by radiation poisoning. On the flip side though, if a nuclear weapon was detonated and did not kill or injure us, the psychological effects of such a disaster could still be great, potentially causing the death and injury of those people we know, and likely inducing panic.

While nothing is known for certain and this analysis is certainly flawed in a handful of ways, the chance of a nuclear terrorist threat does not seem high enough to warrant moving out of Manhattan if you derive significant value from living there. Moreover, if you have already decided that you are going to live in Manhattan, what is the use of worrying about death from nuclear weapons at all? It isn’t as though worrying is likely to make you safer in a significant way. There are many things that have the potential to kill us each day, and we tend to simply not think about them, so why should this be different? Sure, it seems scarier in some ways than car accidents, which feel more familiar, but car accidents (and tumors and strokes) can be just as horrible as death by nuclear bombs or dirty bombs. Living in fear will almost certainly reduce your quality of life without making you substantially safer, so the best thing is probably to learn to be okay with the fact that we will never be totally safe (from nukes or cars or the huge number of other things that might hurt us), and this is just a part of life.

If thoughts about nuclear weapons are something that you find you are upsetting yourself with frequently, you might try writing down answers to the following questions:

a) If I don’t worry about hundreds of other potential sources of death, then why should I worry about this one source, especially since it is quite unlikely to occur?

b) What advantages and disadvantages are there to my worrying about nuclear bombs (especially taking into account the fact that there is nothing I can do to prevent such an attack)?

c) Since death is inevitable, and often painful and unpleasant, is dying from nukes really such an especially horrible way to go?

d) What is a more productive use of our time, worrying about nuclear bombs or researching and implementing ways to mitigate preventable sources of death? (keeping in mind that most of us could eat healthier, exercise more, wear our seat belts more scrupulously, get more regular checkups, and do many other things that would likely extend our lives).

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6 Responses to Will Terrorists Attack Manhattan with a Nuclear Bomb?

  1. Ереван says:

    Неплохо неплохо продолжайте в том же духе.

  2. John Wright says:

    Excellent essay. Thanks for posting. My daughter lives in NYC and this makes me sleep easier.

  3. Mike says:

    As someone who lives and works in Manhattan, this is a topic I’ve researched as well. Detonating a nuclear bomb in Manhattan during a busy work day is the holy grail for islamic terrorists and you can be sure they are working towards that end. What’s stopping them is technical complexity, scarcity of required resources and whatever US intelligence and allies are doing to thwart their plans.

    Check out the article below. Not very encouraging. There’s nothing you can do about it, except leave the city. I have a wife and baby on the way, I want to get out of here before anything big goes down. You know something big is going to happen, just a matter of when.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/25/AR2010012502598.html

  4. Jay says:

    Here is some additional info:

    Effects – Nuclear Bomb

    The cloud of radiation from a nuclear bomb could spread tens to hundreds of square miles,
    A one megaton bomb (megaton is way larger than a kiloton, larger than what a terrorist could get) would make an area 1200 square miles (35 mile radius) unfit for use for a year.
    Polls:
    • Jenkins, 180 respondents, 10% chance in ten years someplace in the world of a Nuke.
    • 29 percent – Harvard Professor likelihood in ten years.
    • State Department – Int’l Security Experts – 29% in ten years.
    • Terrorists today are able to do this.

    Effects:
    • Ten kilotons – is the size of what was dropped on Hiroshima
    o Ten kilotons would obliterate several city blocks. Ten kiloton – Radioactive fallout contaminates a 500-km area, prohibiting residence for 10-20 years.
    o Half mile radius is destroyed. 2.5 miles massive burns and inferno. 9-14 miles away, 50% die from acute radiation poisoning.
    o Chicago would be 300K deaths.
    o A 10 kt explosion would result in complete structural destruction up to ¾ of a mile from ground zero. Fires and lethal radiation would be felt up to 1 mile from ground zero. Radiation fallout from debris clouds will be seen, depending on wind variables, for several miles from ground zero.
    o Natl’ Geographic Video: One mile in any direction destroyed.
    o A few kilometers die instantly, within five kilometers die within 24h (chart below for London and Mumbai).
    o Midtown Manhattan: A ten kiloton weapon detonated in Times Square would devastate much of midtown Manhattan, including the theater district, Grand Central Station, Rockefeller Center, Carnegie Hall, the Empire State Building and Madison Square Garden.
    o Wall Street: Had the 9/11 terrorists detonated a nuclear weapon instead of crashing airplanes into the World Trade Center, Lower Manhattan and the entire financial district would have been reduced to ash and rubble, according to former Senator Nunn, head of the Nuclear Threat Initiative.
    o Within a two-mile diameter circle of a nuclear detonation – a distance the length of the Washington Mall – little could be done.
    • One Kiloton –
    o 460 feet fire ball.
    o 670 feet away things will melt.
    o 1400 feet burns.
    o Second degree burns half mile away for people out in the open.
    o First degree burns a mile away.
    o Kill 20K and injure 20K.
    o 1 Mile = 5280 Feet
    o Within three miles flash can cause blindness.
    • Large buildings would provide some shielding effects (as would mountains I imagine).
    • Natl Geographic Video: “Makeshift Device” – 5 city blocks vaporized. One mile away buildings damaged beyond repair. Winds carry fallout for 100 miles or more – downwind. Survivors would need to stay sheltered for weeks or risk death or illness from exposure.
    • Jenkins – 16 square blocks have fires.
    • 10-100K would die.
    • In the event of a nuclear attack, the immediate blast can hurt people up to a few miles away (depending on the size of the bomb) and can spread contamination much further.
    • The blast wave, depending on the size of the weapon used, may be felt for several miles.
    • Modern nukes that the US or Russia has (40 kt) would destroy most of NYC.
    • The Nukes that N Korea tested were less than 1 kt.
    • History Channel – Within three miles is a deadly electromagnetic pulse.

    Destruction of a city would require an explosion far larger than anything terrorists conceivable could achieve. “Any weapons possessed by al Qaeda were likely to be primitive and limited in destructive capability… It might fizzle, and even if it worked, its yield would likely be far lower than Hiroshima.”
    the radioactive fallout from the fission products from a nuclear detonation could spread over hundreds of square miles.
    The bomb tested by Koreans in 2006 had a half kiloton size. Russian suitcase nukes are small demolition devices that could destroy bridges or other tactical targets. India and Pakistan have 6-12 kiloton bombs.
    DAYTON, OHIO: I live within 50 miles of an air force base in Dayton. In the event of a nuclear attack, how far away would you have to be to be out of harms way? Allen Brodsky and Andrew Karam: Fifty miles should be a pretty safe distance, but a lot depends on the strength of any device and the local weather. There are so many variables that we can’t give you a precise answer. However, in most cases, damage does not extend to 50 miles, so you ought to be OK.
    Anyone .6 miles to 1 mile from ground zero survives the thermal pulse- but not for long

    CBS: Worst-case scenario: a 10-kiloton terrorist nuclear device, constructed with stolen Russian uranium, parked in a small van in one of the busiest intersections in America. In the moments after the blast, everything within a half-mile radius would simply cease to exist. That’s the scenario documented in an unpublished Department of Homeland Security document. The report describes an attack in Washington, D.C. But in New York City, according to the report’s formulas, the damage would be even more devastating. According to experts, Midtown Manhattan’s massive steel-and-concrete skyscrapers would absorb and contain the blast. In the next 10-block ring, there would be far less destruction and death. And outside that ring — the city would be eerily intact. Within 15 minutes, that deadly plume would start falling back to Earth — and begin drifting with the wind. Drive away? “There’s no question there’s going to be gridlock,” Hauer said. And the car won’t provide any shielding from radiation.

    A great deal of work has been done on the probable impact of a terrorist attack involving a nuclear weapon with an explosive force of about ten kilotons, or somewhat less than that of the Hiroshima bomb. Most assume that a terrorist nuclear weapon would be detonated at ground level. The good news in such a scenario is that the interference of buildings and terrain would reduce the diameter of the area of total devastation compared to an air-burst weapon.

    There is evidence that Al Qaeda has tried to make a nuclear bomb, but not evidence that they have sufficient technology or fissile material. “There is no evidence that al Qaeda has nukes. Possession without use for over a decade seems higly unlikely. We can conclude with confidence that any suitcase nuke stashed away for more than a decade without expert maintenance would no longer be reliable or even usable.” They are likely to get one or two low yield devices. Constructing it requires an industrial base and huge amounts of electricity. As far as we know there haven’t been any cases of nuclear weapons being stolen or of more than minute quantities of weapons-grade material being stolen. Stealing nukes is less likely because most have security safeguards to prevent unauthorized use. Tampering with these would result in the device self destructing and becoming inactive.

    NY is in range of Iran missiles. LA is in range of N Korea missiles.

    A paramedic in NY with a masters in terrorism thought a Nuke was highly unlikely. Plus unable to get it into Manhattan.

    NY is often mentioned as a target. LA is sometimes mentioned. They may not choose NY – may just use a weapon to scare and deter us.

    If Iran gets nuclear weapons, risk goes way up.
    Roanoke, VA: If a suitcase nuke was detonated in the NYC subway, how long would it take for the City to become inhabitable again? Allen Brodsky and Andrew Karam: Going by previous experience, not very long. Hiroshima was re-occupied within a few weeks and, when we visited Hiroshima a few years ago, we found a thriving and healthy city. There would be a lot of damage, but the city would be safe from a radiation standpoint fairly quickly.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/05/health/05radiation.html?_r=1&ref=health
    Japanese Nuclear Power Meltdown in 2011 – According to the Environmental Protection Agency, people receive 0.3 rem per year from natural background radiation. If 10,000 people are each exposed to 1 rem, in small doses over a lifetime (above the natural background exposure), according to the agency, the radiation will cause five or six excess deaths from cancer. In a group that size, about 2,000 would normally die from cancers not caused by radiation, so the extra dose would raise the total to 2,005 or 2,006. A quarter mile from the Fukushima plant (residents have been evacuated from a 12-mile zone around the plant) radiation levels of 0.1 rem per hour have been measured, and researchers agree that four days of such exposure would increase a person’s risk of cancer. But some would argue that an even shorter exposure would raise the risk. Many of today’s risk estimates are based on a study of 200,000 people who survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. More than 40 percent are still alive. The bomb survivors received radiation doses ranging from negligible to high; high would be 200 rem or more, what Dr. Douple called a “barely sublethal dose.” But 61,000 people were estimated to have received half a rem or less, and 28,000 received half a rem to 10 rem. Their doses were calculated based on factors like how close they were to the center of the bomb and whether they were inside buildings.
    Hiroshima – Radiation did increase the risk of cancer. “But the risk of cancer is quite low, lower than what the public might expect,” said Dr. Douple. He said that the researchers themselves had expected to find more cancer than they did. Of 120,000 survivors in one study group, 219 with radiation exposure had died of leukemia from 1950 through 2002, the latest year with published data. But only 98 of those cases, or 45 percent, were excess deaths attributed to radiation. Dr. Douple emphasized that at very low doses, the risk was also very low.

    However, when the leukemia deaths were sorted by radiation dose, it was clear that risk increased with dose. Among people who received the highest doses (100 rem or more), 86 percent of the leukemia deaths were a result of radiation,

    OTTAWA — Every car, truck and passenger entering the United States by land from Canada is now searched for nuclear weapons.
    The last of about 600 northern border radiation detectors has been installed at Trout River, N.Y., on the Quebec border, completing a continentwide shield aimed at repelling the smuggling of nuclear bombs, dirty bombs and other malicious nuclear materials from Canada.
    Most experts believe there is a low probability that terrorists could muster the technical sophistication and complex planning needed to pull off a strike on U.S. soil, yet Osama bin Laden has made it clear that al-Qaida wants to nuke the U.S.
    Even a small chance of that happening is one of the great worries of U.S. leaders and many security officials, magnified by the political strife in nuclear-armed Pakistan, where al-Qaida’s core command has taken sanctuary.
    Preventing terrorists from detonating a nuclear weapon in a major U.S. city is therefore a key national security priority, with more than $3 billion US spent since 2002 on nuclear monitors alone at Canadian and Mexican land border crossings and U.S. seaports.
    U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano hails the completion of the Canadian component, two months ahead of schedule, as a “major security milestone.
    “This technology enhances our capability to guard against terrorism and criminal threats while expediting border crossings for lawful trade and travel,” she said in a statement.
    Meanwhile, the effectiveness of the U.S. radiation monitors is debatable.
    The “non-intrusive” monitors are erected alongside the car lane approaches to customs’ booth inspections, with larger monitors for transport trucks stationed in cargo inspection areas. Each detects certain types of energy within a limited area but not the exact radioactive source.
    For that, a suspect vehicle is sent for a secondary inspection that includes a scan with a hand-held detection device to identify the source and whether it constitutes a threat. Benign emissions from lingering medical isotopes in people’s bodies, scrap metal, natural sources of radiation and even Kitty Litter trigger frequent false alarms.
    Reducing them and the accompanying border-crossing delays with the current polyvinyl toluene (PVT) monitors would mean re-calibrating their detection threshold, or sensitivity. But uranium-235, which in a concentrated, highly enriched form becomes weapons-grade uranium, is already weak radioactively, and reducing the monitors’ threshold would make detection more difficult.
    What’s more, PVT monitors can only detect unshielded or lightly shielded sources, which seems unrealistic, considering the sophisticated smuggling tactics determined nuclear terrorists would likely employ.
    The U.S. is instead debating the cost-effectiveness of replacing PVT technology with “advanced spectroscopic portals” or ASP, a new type of portal monitor designed to both detect radiation and identify the source.
    The U.S. Government Accounting Office reports that ASP monitors use more sophisticated software, and have a more extensive library of radiation signatures that may provide more consistent and rapid screening and may increase the likelihood of correct identification. But they’re also almost three times more expensive than PVT monitors.
    In the meantime, the U.S. says the PVT monitors are now scanning 100 per cent of all vehicle traffic entering from Canada and Mexico, plus all mail and courier packages from Mexico and a further 98 per cent of all arriving seaborne container cargo.
    How To Survive a Nuclear Bomb
    By David Shenk
    Posted Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2006, at 6:22 PM ET
    How does one rank hypothetical catastrophes? Which would be worse—another Katrina or another 9/11? It seems fitting to begin with the cataclysm we’ve all been worrying about for more than half a century: a nuclear attack on a major city. With some 27,000 nuclear warheads scattered around the world, and with, shall we say, less-than-ideal safeguards in Russia, Pakistan, and North Korea, some experts predict it is bound to happen sooner or later. They don’t keep shuttling Dick Cheney to his undisclosed location (deep under Pennsylvania’s Raven Rock Mountains) just for show. Shortly after 9/11, the White House was on high alert in response to a CIA report than an errant Soviet “suitcase nuke” was being smuggled into the United States. That report was eventually discredited, but given the current availability of fissile material and the shocking dearth of effort being spent to reduce it, such an alarm may eventually prove true. “If we continue along our present course,” warns Harvard’s Graham Allison, “nuclear terrorism is inevitable.”
    Here’s the worst part: You will survive. Get those images of Jason Robards in The Day After out of your head. This is not that. We’re not talking here about multiple-entry 20-megaton warheads wiping whole cities off the map in seconds. A single terrorist nuke, more likely in the 5- to 10-kiloton range (Hiroshima was 12 kilotons), will kill tens or hundreds of thousands of people in any big city but spare the rest. In New York, that will leave about 7.5 million of us to sort through the carnage.
    Let’s consider what would happen. The first 30 seconds or so will unfold like this:

    • A silent, invisible electromagnetic pulse will instantly disable many computers, cars, and other electronic systems for miles.
    • A blinding flash of light will bathe the area, burning the retinas of all looking directly into it. (Permanent blindness for some; temporary for others.)
    • A crushing heat and shock wave, accompanied by a fierce wind, will knock down many buildings within a half mile. Beyond that immediate radius, most buildings will stay standing, but people and glass will get tossed about for many miles.
    Soon fires will engulf thousands of buildings, and a large, deadly plume of radioactive dust will be carried in one direction or another by prevailing winds.
    So, what should you do? For all survivors within 20 miles, the immediate task will be to stay away from fires and avoid the fallout for at least a couple of days. (The vast majority of radioactivity fades away that quickly.) The only two methods of avoiding fallout would be:
    A) to take shelter until the radiation danger fades, or
    B) if you have time, evacuate the area, heading in a perpendicular direction to the fallout wind.
    In either case, it would be a very good idea for everyone in the exposed area to take potassium iodide pills, a relatively harmless substance that prevents your thyroid from soaking up radio-iodine and thus lowers the risk of future thyroid cancer. (Appropriate doses here. Good place to buy the pills here.) It would also be extremely useful to have a key-chain radiation monitor—the one that currently seems to be most effective is here.
    Whether to stay put or run away is the subject of some controversy. In all likelihood, many survivors of the blast would quickly find themselves in an eerie simulation of every political satirist’s favorite film, Duck and Cover.
    What in the 1950s came across as a laughably reassuring response to an overwhelming threat turns out to be surprisingly coherent practical advice for the urban 21st century. Because you are unlikely to be able to outrun the radioactive fallout, the best option in any city would most likely be to immediately find refuge under a thick physical barrier and to remain there for at least a few days. That barrier is your best defense against tiny particles and penetrating rays. Basements are best, followed by interior rooms with no windows. If you are in a tall tower, it’s probably best to be on a midlevel floor, in a room close to the center of the building with no windows. You will need to stay there for several days at least, so your temporary shelter should be prestocked with food, water, radio, flashlights, and a makeshift toilet. Ideally, radio messages would begin soon after the explosion to instruct people about the nature and direction of the fallout and whether and how to evacuate. (Those interested in more thorough preparation can go here.)
    “This would not be the end of the world,” nuclear expert Charles Ferguson emphasized to me as we talked through the sequence of post-atomic events. “We can deal with this kind of horrific attack, and a little preparation can go a long way to increasing your chances of survival.” It’s a shocking, unnerving reality that one can rationally prepare for a nuclear blast. But all it really takes is a trip to the grocery store, a few clicks on the Internet, and short conversations with your boss and your wife.
    I know that most of you would sooner shop for your own casket than stock up on post-nuclear groceries. The great paradox of surviving nuclear terrorism is that probably the most excruciating part is confronting it emotionally, tearing your psyche away from the much more comfortable (and widely assumed) scenario of annihilation. Ask any New Yorker about a nuclear attack and the first thing you’ll hear is, “Why dwell on it? I’ll be dead.” No one wants to hear the muckier truth of likely survival. If confronted, people jerk back with the response, “I’d kill myself.” But you wouldn’t. A few survivors might, but that’s just not what humans do in the face of catastrophe. Ask Elie Wiesel or Viktor Frankl. We’ve got this annoying survival instinct. You would want to live. You would want to help your family. You would want to help others. You would want to rebuild your life.
    Why not face that reality now, in advance? Yes, it’s uncomfortable. But an hour or two of preparation might mean the difference between complete misery and relative safety. No one is suggesting a life-altering obsession—Lord knows I’m looking forward to thinking about something else—only that you spend about as much time preparing for this awful unlikelihood as you already have for other awful unlikelihoods. None of us expect to get cancer or watch our house burn to cinders, but we buy health, life, and home insurance just in case. We prepare for the worst and then forget about it. Why not apply that same principle to acts of God or Bin Laden?
    Maybe you won’t, but I will. Someone has to start the trend. To survey my survival gear options, I paid a visit to Safer America, a disaster-preparedness supply shop on East 54th Street in Manhattan.
    General manager Jonathan Elkoubi was waiting inside, ready to show me how, since 9/11, he has helped families and corporations prepare for the next 9/11. His showroom is a survivalist’s paradise, stocked with everything from smoke hoods and particle masks to earthquake alarms and skyscraper escape parachutes. (“I’m not going to name any names,” he said, “but you’d be shocked by the CEOs who buy these parachutes for their own personal use and buy nothing for anyone else even on their own floor.”)
    At the end of the full tour, we came to the pièces de résistance: the new, lightweight Demron™ torso vest and full-body radiation suit. For $688 and $1,200, respectively, not only will you effortlessly beat back most ionizing rays—you’ll look damned good doing it.
    Maybe that’s how we turn urbanites around on nuclear preparedness. We make it chic.
    Q: Is it true that some nuclear blasts would destroy the entire region or state I live in?
    A: No. Like so many other overhyped effects of a nuclear blast, it is a severe exaggeration to say that an entire region or some significant chunk of a state would be destroyed by a nuclear blast. Most blasts, based on suspected yield totals found in Russian or Chinese ICBMs, would destroy most of a city but not entire regions or states.

    Russian and American bombs are mostly hydrogen bombs, which are WAY stronger than what was dropped in Japan.
    a terrorist bomb might have a ten kiloton yield. But it might also have a much smaller one.
    If a terrorist’s ten-kiloton nuclear warhead were to misfire (known to nuclear scientists as a “fizzle”) and produce a one-kiloton blast, bystanders near ground zero would not know the difference. Such an explosion would torch anyone one-tenth of a mile from the epicenter, and topple buildings up to one-third of a mile out.

    What to Do If Nuclear Bomb – Shelter Inside

    Don’t look in the direction of the initial flash of light (equivalent to 1 million suns), or else you might suffer temporary or permanent flash blindness
    2. Keep your mouth open directly after detonation. This allows pressure on both sides of ear drums to equalize. If your mouth is closed, all the pressure is going internally, and might burst your eardrums.
    3. After the initial blast, keep your mouth closed (protected if possible) to filter radioactive materials from getting into lungs
    • The greatest risk of fallout is early on after detonation
    • Many lives can be saved by simply sheltering-in-place. If the radioactive plume is headed in your direction, you have 10 to 20 minutes to leave your car and get inside a building where you’re protected as much as possible, either in a basement or center-core of the structure
    • Being in a car when the fallout arrives is bad, but not as bad as being out in the open
    the urge to evacuate immediately would be overwhelming, even though this might be a fatal choice, since radioactive fallout would be most intense in the initial hours and days after a encourages authorities who survive to prevent evacuation of at least some of the areas attacked for three days to avoid roadway paralysis and damage from exposure to radioactive fallout; detonation.

    Likelihood – Nuclear Bomb
    Various experts estimate the chances of a nuclear detonation in the next 10 years at somewhere between 10 and 30 percent. Martin Hellman, professor emeritus of electrical engineering at Stanford and co-inventor of public key cryptography, estimates the odds at 1 percent per year going forward. “If the odds are 1 percent per year, in 10 years the likelihood is almost 10 percent, and in 50 years 40 percent if there is no substantial change,” he said. Hellman, who has been focusing on nuclear deterrence for the past 25 years, said that a baby born today, with an expected lifetime of 80 years, faces a greater than 50-50 chance that a nuclear weapon attack will occur unless the number of weapons and available weapons-grade material is radically reduced. In a 2005 survey of 85 national security experts, 60 percent of the respondents assessed the odds of a nuclear attack within 10 years at between 10 and 50 percent, with an average of 29.2 percent. Nearly 80 percent of respondents expected the attack to originate with a terrorist group.

    Nonetheless, the possibility of diversion remains. Massive quantities of fissile material exist around the world. Sophisticated terrorists could fairly readily design and fabricate a workable atomic bomb once they manage to acquire the precious deadly ingredients (the Hiroshima bomb which used a simple gun-barrel design is the prime example).
    What are the chances of a terror group getting their hands on a thermonuclear device?
    A: Not likely. Thermonuclear devices are owned and maintained by governments that provide for strict security and control.

    Natl Geographic Video: To make a bomb with plutonim is very complicated, although plutonium is readily available. To make a bomb with enriched uranium is very easy, but its very very hard to get enriched uranium. It would take a nation to be able to enrich uranium to a quality needed. So its very unlikely that a terrorist would be able to make a nuclear bomb unless they could get good enriched uranium. There’s enough enriched uranium in Russia to make 60,000 bombs. But the US and EU scans all shipping containers, and it would take a sophisticated scientist to be able to shield from the sensors. So a shipper worker in Holland thought it would be unlikely they’d be able to get a shipment through a port.
    Thanks to initiatives like the Nunn-Lugar program, highly enriched uranium and plutonium in Russia are far safer from theft today than they were in the early 1990s. But the risk that terrorists will buy or steal nuclear material from a rogue state increases as more countries acquire the ability to produce weapons-usable material.
    Here is another possibility: In the wake of a full-blown nuclear plot, the international campaign against terrorism would likely step into a much higher gear. Would al-Qaeda accept a ninety percent chance of failing to kill more than a massive conventional bomb would while incurring a large risk of provoking a response that might cripple its ability to initiate other plots, nuclear or non-nuclear, in the future? We can’t know the answer, but there is no reason to assume that al-Qaeda would choose such a course.
    Al Qaeda remains the only terrorist group judged to be actively intent on conducting a nuclear attack against the United States, the report notes. It is not yet capable of building such a weapon and has yet to obtain one. But that could change if a nuclear weapons engineer or scientist were recruited to Al Qaeda’s cause, the report warns.

    2oo8: a terrorist or state-sponsored terrorist nuclear attack may be a statistically remote possibility,

    Among the forces working against nuclear terrorism:
    • The difficulty of obtaining fissile material
    • The difficulty of a non-state group engineering a workable nuclear weapon
    • Increasing security measures to protect or eliminate existing fissile material worldwide, particularly in the former Soviet Union
    • Improved and expanded homeland security programs
    • Progress in the ongoing war on terror and continuing efforts to weaken and degrade terror groups and their terror masters
    • 21

    • Indications, admittedly ambiguous, suggesting that even for a radically violent terrorist group, the use of a nuclear weapon against hundreds of thousands of civilians might be considered counterproductive to the terrorist movement and therefore beyond the pale.

    Forces pushing us toward the possibility of an act of nuclear terror include:
    • A stated declaration by jihadist elements that obtaining nuclear capability is a religious duty for Islamists and clerical findings that use of such a weapon against the enemies of Islam could be justified
    • Continuing gaps in security of some nuclear material, particularly at research reactors
    • The availability of rudimentary nuclear weapon designs through open sources, growing concern that more sophisticated designs may have become available on the black market, and the possible transfer or sale of such weapons or technology directly from nuclear armed states to terror groups
    • Ready access by radical groups to large funding sources in the Middle East, enhanced by the rapid rise in the price of oil
    • Continued gaps in port and border security, both at home and abroad, exemplified by the continuing easy flow of illegal people and drugs into the United States
    • The ‘needle in a haystack’ difficulty of tracking down and seizing nuclear material once it has been stolen or diverted
    • Growing pressure toward the proliferation of nuclear weapons, bringing with it the increased chance of nuclear material theft, sale or diversion
    • The unworkability of traditional deterrent models against terror groups contemplating a nuclear attack.

    SF Chronicle, 2007: Many experts say the likelihood of al Qaeda or some other terrorist group producing a working nuclear weapon with illicitly obtained weapons-grade fuel is not large.

    Michael Levi’s numbers. Imagine that he is correct, and terrorists have “a 90 percent chance of failure” if they attempt a nuclear 9/11.
    If terrorists pursued only fool-proof plans, they would have begun suicide bombing attacks on U.S. public transportation by now.
    we often overestimate how easy a terrorist task may be.
    This takes on special importance in the context of a broader defense. Imagine a terrorist group faces only a twenty percent chance of failure while building a bomb. But imagine it also faces a similarly small chance of failure while attempting to purchase nuclear materials, while attempting to recruit scientists and engineers, while raising money for its plot, while smuggling materials into the United States, while purchasing non-nuclear components for its weapon, while assembling the bomb in a safehouse, and in other elements of its plot. If we combine, for example, ten such hurdles, we get a ninety percent chance of failure.
    In the judgment of former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn, the likelihood of a single nuclear bomb exploding in a single city is greater today than at the height of the Cold War. Nuclear Terrorism states my own judgment that, on the current trend line, the chances of a nuclear terrorist attack in the next decade are greater than 50 percent.
    From the technical side, Richard Garwin, a designer of the hydrogen bomb who Enrico Fermi once called, “the only true genius I had ever met,” told Congress in March that he estimated a “20 percent per year probability with American cities and European cities included” of “a nuclear explosion—not just a contamination, dirty bomb—a nuclear explosion.” My Harvard colleague Matthew Bunn has created a probability model in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science that estimates the probability of a nuclear terrorist attack over a ten-year period to be 29 percent—identical to the average estimate from a poll of security experts commissioned by Senator Richard Lugar in 2005.

    http://ann.sagepub.com/content/607/1/103.abstract
    A Mathematical Model of the Risk of Nuclear Terrorism
    1. Matthew Bunn
    1. Project on Managing the Atom in the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
    Abstract
    This article presents a mathematical model for measuring the global risk of nuclear theft and terrorism. One plausible set of parameter values used in a numerical example suggests a 29 percent probability of a nuclear terrorist attack in the next decade. The expected loss over that period would be $1.17 trillion (undiscounted), or more than $100 billion per year. Historical and other evidence is used to explore the likely values of several of the key parameters, and policy options for reducing the risk are briefly assessed. The uncertainties in estimating the risk of nuclear terrorism are very large, but even a risk dramatically smaller than that estimated in the numerical example used in this article would justify a broad range of actions to reduce the threat.

    a crude gun-type bomb built from highly enriched uranium would be relatively simple to construct and reliable. Manhattan Project scientists were so confident about this design that they persuaded military authorities to drop the bomb, untested, on Hiroshima.
    So let me flag another dimension of motivation that gets too little attention. Even groups that want to and possibly can execute nuclear attacks may decide against them. Why? Because many of the most dangerous terrorist groups hate to fail. Brian Jenkins wrote recently that for jihadists, “failure signals God’s disapproval.” That’s a lot of pressure to succeed. This inevitably pushes the odds of nuclear terrorism down. When we look at our defenses against nuclear terrorism, we prudently notice the holes. When terrorists look at those same defenses, they may be fixating on whatever barriers, however limited, exist. If that’s what’s happening, nuclear terrorism may be much less likely than many expect.
    In “Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe,” published in 2004, I present the evidence for the proposition that on the current trajectory, a successful terrorist nuclear attack devastating one of the great cities of the world is inevitable. I offer my own considered judgment that if all the governments stay on autopilot, doing no more and no less than they are doing today, a nuclear 9/11 is more likely than not within a decade — that is, by 2014.
    Warren Buffet, the world’s most successful investor and legendary odds-maker in pricing insurance policies for unlikely but catastrophic events, concluded that nuclear terrorism is “inevitable.” As he has stated: “I don’t see any way that it won’t happen.”
    Al Qaeda spokesman Sulaiman Abu Ghaith announced the group’s objective — “to kill 4 million Americans — 2 million of them children,”
    What’s been done to address the threat? More than one would recognize. In the 16 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, visionary leadership and far-sighted government programs — see the Nunn-Lugar scorecard at http://lugar.senate. gov/nunnlugar/scorecard.html — have made significant headway in securing nuclear weapons and materials.

    U.N. Security Council Resolution 1540, in 2004, focused attention on the nuclear-terrorism threat globally by legally obligating all member states to provide “appropriate effective export controls, border controls, and transshipment controls.”

    Possible Cause – Direct nuclear attack on the United States using nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction (WMD). If it occurs, it likely will be state sponsored using a terrorist network to strike several major targets in the United States within a short period of time. The terrorists might even develop the capabilities to do this strike without any state sponsorship. The United States is taking measures to protect itself from a missile attack by another nation. These anti-missile defenses will be in place within a few years and she still has the nuclear capability to destroy any country that would launch such an attack. Therefore, I do not see the likelihood of a direct WMD attack by a nation against the United States in the near future. the foremost experts say there still is enough unaccounted for nuclear material or vulnerable nuclear material in the world to create thousands of nuclear bombs. I am not suggesting that thousands of crude nuclear devices will be made. However, it certainly is possible that several have been or will be made. If nuclear materials or bombs are not already in the hands of terrorist groups, the foot dragging of Putin of Russia and the bureaucratic politics from Washington will insure that this threat to the United States will exist for at least 15 to 20 more years.
    For example, what might be the domestic effects of three nuclear blasts in large American cities in a short span of time?
    The International Atomic Energy Agency’s Illicit Trafficking Database has documented more than 18 incidents of theft or unauthorized possession involving plutonium or highly enriched uranium in the last two decades.
    “For example, a bomb using illicit nuclear material could be transported in pieces and motored up the Potomac River in a yacht. You end up with variations of looking for a needle in a haystack. We shouldn’t put too much reliance on stopping things with other layers of defense,” Bunn said.
    President Obama has established a four-year window to secure all stocks of nuclear weapons and materials. Work is underway by the U.S. and partners to remove or eliminate highly-enriched uranium from facilities around the world. U.S. President Obama has been equally blunt: “There is no graver danger to global security than the threat of nuclear terrorism, and no more immediate task for the international community than to address that threat.”
    In the case of a nuclear weapon, it would require a large, well organized and well funded group to build, let alone buy, such a weapon, maintain security at all stages, and successfully transport it to the intended site for detonation.
    The two major hurdles to be overcome would be acquiring sufficient fissile material, discussed separately below, and the engineering expertise needed to make the device work.
    Air transport would be high risk, but if sea transport to that state were involved, luck might well run in favour of the terrorist group: the U.S. Container Security Initiative is one of many practical demonstrations that it is impossible to exhaustively inspect every container cargo at busy ports. And if truck transport across land borders was involved, rather less luck would probably be needed. Even radiological detection is easier to avoid with nuclear weapons than is the case with “dirty bombs” using (as discussed below), widely available but highly radioactive material.
    These huge stocks of nuclear materials are maintained using extremely varied accounting systems, and the conditions for storing and protecting them from hijacking or sale to criminal elements are far from reliable.

    the likelihood that a terrorist group will come up with an atomic bomb seems to be vanishingly small. Moreover, the degree to which al-Qaeda–the chief demon group and one of the few terrorist groups to see value in striking the United States–has sought, or is capable of, obtaining such a weapon seems to have been substantially exaggerated.
    “just because a nuclear terrorist attack hasn’t happened shouldn’t give us the false comfort of thinking it won’t” (2006, 39). However, just because something terrible is possible shouldn’t send us into hysterics thinking it will surely come about.

    It is essential to note, however, that making a bomb is an extraordinarily difficult task. Thus, a set of counterterrorism and nuclear experts interviewed in 2004 by Dafna Linzer for the Washington Post pointed to the “enormous technical and logistical obstacles confronting would-be nuclear terrorists, and to the fact that neither al-Qaeda nor any other group has come close to demonstrating the means to overcome them.”
    In his recent book, Atomic Bazaar: The Rise of the Nuclear Poor, William Langewiesche spends a great deal of time and effort assessing the process by means of which a terrorist group could come up with a bomb. Unlike Allison, he concludes that it “remains very, very unlikely. It’s a possibility, but unlikely.” Also: The best information is that no one has gotten anywhere near this. I mean, if you look carefully and practically at this process, you see that it is an enormous undertaking full of risks for the would-be terrorists. And so far there is no public case, at least known, of any appreciable amount of weapons-grade HEU [highly enriched uranium] disappearing.

    Huffington Post: very unlikely nuclear, chemical and biological ones. A March report by RAND concluded a terror strike from abroad was unlikely. It found al Queda to be more preoccupied with foreign targets, especially Iraq, and lacked a specific strategic plan for attacking targets within the U.S. Should we fear attacks by a biochemical or biological weapon? The possibility is only somewhat greater than a nuclear weapon or dirty bomb attack. These weapons, if they are to kill thousands rather than 100, also require more sophistication than we have any reason to believe that any terrorist group has.
    In November 2006, MI5 warned that al-Qaida were planning on using nuclear weapons against cities in the United Kingdom by obtaining the bombs via clandestine means.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_terrorism
    Wikipedia: Despite a number of claims,[26][27] there is no credible evidence that any terrorist group has yet succeeded in obtaining a nuclear bomb or the materials needed to make one.[28][24]

    Jenkins at a UCLA talk: Hard intelligence about terrorist capabilities suggests that terrorists are still a long way from using the ultimate weapon of mass destruction — or even a crude suitcase version of it.

    Robert Gallucci, Dean of the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, estimated that “it is more likely than not that al Qaeda or one of its affiliates will detonate a nuclear weapon in a U.S. city within the next five to ten years”.[29]
    Perhaps no one, however, has studied the issue more thoroughly than Allison. In his book, based on the current trend line, he concludes the chances of a nuclear terrorist attack in the next decade are greater than 50 percent.

    According to the latest intelligence, a scenario involving the detonation of a nuclear device on U.S. soil would most likely consist of the following:
    • Ground-zero would be Washington, D.C.
    • A 10-kiloton gun-type improvised nuclear device (IND) would be detonated by a terrorist
    • The delivery vehicle would most likely be a delivery van
    • The attack would take place on a weekday morning

    if terrorists could steal, buy, or make a nuclear bomb, there is little confidence that the government could stop them from smuggling it into the United States. After all, thousands of tons of illegal drugs and hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants cross U.S. borders every year, despite massive efforts to stop them. The essential ingredients of a nuclear bomb can fit easily into a briefcase, and the weak radiation these materials emit can be made quite difficult to detect with the use of modest amounts of shielding.
    Russia: Under an accelerated plan developed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, DOE hopes to complete comprehensive upgrades for all of this material by the end of 2008.
    CSBAOnline: Although the likelihood of a nuclear terrorist attack may be relatively low, Since the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, however, al Qaeda has lost a key sanctuary and much of its original senior leadership. al Qaeda appears to be much less capable of conducting a major attack against the United States, and especially a catastrophic attack using a nuclear weapon, than it was when it had a base of operations in Afghanistan. After the downfall of the Taliban regime, al Qaeda evolved into an increasingly decentralized organization. Moreover, as the influence and capabilities of its central leadership have waned, the source of the terrorist threat has shifted toward regional groups affiliated with al Qaeda and homegrown extremists inspired by it, neither of which are likely to possess the knowledge, skills, resources, or discipline necessary to plan and successfully carry out a nuclear attack. Until fairly recently, however, numerous accounts suggested that al Qaeda’s core leadership was in the process of reestablishing its ability to organize and execute major attacks, due in large part to its sanctuary in the remote areas of Pakistan. Yet according the United States intelligence Community this concern has diminished over the past year due to ongoing counterterrorism efforts, including repeated strikes against terrorist operatives using unmanned aerial vehicles operating in Pakistan. These efforts “have put the organization into one of its most difficult positions since the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom in late 2001,” and have also “dealt a significant blow to al-Qa’ida’s near-term efforts to develop a sophisticated CBRN [chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear] attack capability.” First, limiting and preferably stopping any further proliferation of nuclear weapons and the technology to produce nuclear material is and will remain an important goal. At present, this goal hinges largely on Iran — if Tehran does pursue and develop nuclear weapons, this could be the catalyst for a wave of proliferation in the Middle East. A third possibility is the theft of an intact nuclear weapon, although this would hardly be an easy task. Most nuclear weapons are heavily guarded, and, even if terrorists did manage to acquire a weapon, they would still have to overcome any security features that render a weapon inoperable without the proper arming codes. Finally, there is the possibility that a group could purchase fissile material on the black market or steal it from a military or civilian facility and then use that material to construct an improvised nuclear device. in recent years, analysts have increasingly come to view this scenario as the most plausible route for terrorists seeking nuclear weapons.
    Video – Mentioned DC, NY & LA as targets

    today less than 10 percent of cargo arriving on U.S. shores is physically inspected or electronically scanned.
    John Mueller – Ohio State, 2008: “an enormous undertaking full of risks”–could fail. The odds, indeed, are stacked against the terrorists, perhaps massively so. A favorite fantasy of imaginative alarmists envisions that a newly nuclear country will palm off a bomb or two to friendly terrorists for delivery abroad. As Langewiesche stresses, however, this is highly improbable because there would be too much risk, even for a country led by extremists, that the ultimate source of the weapon would be discovered. Moreover, there is a very considerable danger the bomb and its donor would be discovered even before delivery or that it would be exploded in a manner and on a target the donor would not approve. It is also worth noting that, although nuclear weapons have been around now for well over half a century, no state has ever given another state–even a close ally, much less a terrorist group–a nuclear weapon. It is also worth noting that, although nuclear weapons have been around now for well over half a century, no state has ever given another state–even a close ally, much less a terrorist group–a nuclear weapon. Pakistan’s president, “You cannot imagine the outrage there would be in my country if it were learned that Pakistan is coddling scientists who are helping Bin Ladin acquire a nuclear weapon. Should such a device ever be used, the full fury of the American people would be focused on whoever helped al-Qa’ida in its cause” (Tenet and Harlow 2007, 266). Russia–weapons, “suitcase bombs” in particular, that can be stolen or bought illicitly. However, when asked, Russian nuclear officials and experts on the Russian nuclear programs “adamantly deny that al Qaeda or any other terrorist group could have bought Soviet-made suitcase nukes.” They further point out that the bombs, all built before 1991, are difficult to maintain and have a lifespan of one to three years after which they become “radioactive scrap metal” (Badkhen 2004). Similarly, a careful assessment of the concern conducted by the Center for Nonproliferation Studies has concluded that it is unlikely that any of these devices have actually been lost and that, regardless, their effectiveness would be very low or even non-existent because they require continual maintenance. By 2007, even such alarmists at Anna Pluto and Peter Zimmerman were concluding that “It is probably true that there are no ‘loose nukes’, transportable nuclear weapons missing from their proper storage locations and available for purchase in some way. It might be added that Russia has an intense interest in controlling any weapons on its territory since it is likely to be a prime target of any illicit use by terrorist groups, particularly, of course, Chechen ones. “it would be very difficult for terrorists to figure out on their own how to work a Russian or Pakistan bomb” even if they did obtain one because even the simplest of these “has some security features that would have to be defeated before it could be used”. most bombs that could conceivably be stolen use plutonium which emits a great deal of radiation that could relatively easily be detected by passive sensors at ports and other points of transmission. all nuclear nations take the security of their weapons very seriously. If terrorists make a bomb, Most likely this would not be a bomb that can be dropped or hurled, but rather an “improvised nuclear device” (IND) that would be set off at the target by a suicidal detonation crew. Making a bomb… The process is a daunting one, and it requires that a whole cascade of events click perfectly and in sequence. stateless groups are simply incapable of manufacturing the required fissile material for a bomb since the process requires an enormous effort on an industrial scale. they are unlikely to be supplied with the material by a state for the same reasons a state is unlikely to give them a workable bomb. Thus, they would need to steal or illicitly purchase this crucial material. Corruption in some areas may provide an opportunity to buy the relevant material, but purchasers of illicit goods and services would have to pay off a host of greedy confederates, any one of whom could turn on them or, either out of guile or incompetence, furnish them with stuff that is useless. (Tom: Think of the number of people they’d need to bribe. You’d think at least one would squal/tell.) It is also relevant to note that in the last ten years or so, there have been 10 known thefts of highly enriched uranium–in total less than 16 pounds or so, far less than required for an atomic explosion. the thieves–none of whom was connected to al Qaeda–had no buyers lined up, and nearly all were caught while trying to peddle their acquisitions. If terrorists were somehow successful at obtaining a critical mass of relevant material, they would then have to transport it hundreds of miles out of the country over unfamiliar terrain and probably while being pursued by security forces. precise blueprints are required, not just sketches and general ideas. the technical requirements “in several fields verge on the unfeasible.” report by five Los Alamos scientists: the detailed design drawings and specifications that are essential before it is possible to plan the fabrication of actual parts are not available. The preparation of these drawings requires a large number of man-hours and the direct participation of individuals thoroughly informed in several quite distinct areas: the physical, chemical, and metallurgical properties of the various materials to be used, as well as the characteristics affecting their fabrication; neutronic properties; radiation effects, both nuclear and biological; technology concerning high explosives and/or chemical propellants; some hydrodynamics; electrical circuitry; and others. “a single mistake in design could wreck the whole project.” While it is true that one can obtain the general idea behind a rudimentary nuclear explosive from articles on the Internet, none of these sources has enough detail to enable the confident assembly of a real nuclear explosive. All this work would have to be carried out in utter secret, of course, even while local and international security police are likely to be on the intense prowl. people in the area may observe with increasing curiosity and puzzlement the constant coming and going of technicians unlikely to be locals (2007, 65-69).17 In addition, the bombmakers would not be able to test the product to be sure they were on the right track. corrupted co-conspirators, many of them foreign, must remain utterly reliable, no curious outsider must get wind of the project over the months or even years it takes to pull off, and international and local security services must be kept perpetually in the dark. Encased in lead shielding to mask radioactive emissions, it would then have to be transported to, and smuggled into, the relevant country. In a still-secret 2005 report, the FBI allowed as how it had been unable to find a single true al-Qaeda sleeper cell anywhere in the United States after years of devoted and well-funded sleuthing (Ross 2005), something that apparently continues to be true. And, finally, at the target site, the crew, presumably suicidal, would have to set off its improvised and untested nuclear device, one that, to repeat Allison’s description, would be “large, cumbersome, unsafe, unreliable, unpredictable, and inefficient”. While doing this they would have to hope, and fervently pray, that the machine shop work has been perfect, that there have been no significant shakeups in the treacherous process of transportation, and that the thing, after all this effort, doesn’t prove to be a dud. as the Gilmore Commission, a special advisory panel to the President and Congress, stresses, building a nuclear device capable of producing mass destruction presents “Herculean challenges” and requires that a whole series of steps be accomplished. The process requires obtaining enough fissile material, designing a weapon “that will bring that mass together in a tiny fraction of a second, before the heat from early fission blows the material apart,” and figuring out some way to deliver the thing. one might begin by assuming that they have a fighting chance of 50 percent of overcoming each of these obstacles even though for many barriers, probably almost all, the odds against them are much worse than that. Even with that generous bias, the chances they could successfully pull off the mission come out to be worse than one in a million, specifically they are one in 1,048,567. Although Allison considers al-Qaeda to be “the most probable perpetrator” on the nuclear front (2004, 29), he is also concerned about the potential atomic exploits of other organizations such as Indonesia’s Jemaah Islamiyah, Chechen gangsters, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and various doomsday cults (2004, 29-42).21 Putting aside the observation that few, if any, of these appear to have interest in hitting the United States except for al-Qaeda. Also, the difficulties for the atomic terrorists are likely to increase over time because of much enhanced protective and policing efforts by self-interested governments–there is considerable agreement, for example, that Russian nuclear materials are much more adequately secured than they were ten or fifteen years ago. Moreover, all this focuses on the effort to deliver a single bomb. If the requirement were to deliver several, the odds become, of course, even more prohibitive. “the best reason for thinking it won’t happen is that it hasn’t happened yet,” “the best reason for thinking it won’t happen is that it hasn’t happened yet,”. Information about the “Hiroshima” crack obviously comes from third-hand reports speculating about Osama bin Laden’s mindset. Moreover, the Commission elsewhere notes that the reports suggest he was hoping to inflict “at least 10,000 casualties” (Kean 2004, 116). Many times that many casualties were suffered at Hiroshima, and this could suggest that if bin Laden did utter the word, he was using it as many others have, as a synonym for a “major event,” not necessarily an atomic one. characteristically been considerable, maybe even at times intense. Also important: the scientists reportedly said that “bin Laden indicated he had obtained, or had access to, some type of radiological material that he said had been acquired for him by the radical Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan” and that he “asked them how the material could be made into a weapon or something usable.” Al Qaeda had succeeded in acquiring nuclear material for a bomb.”) They then told him “it would not be possible to manufacture a weapon with the material he might have,” a response Allison creatively renders as “Mahmood explained to his hosts that the material in question could be used in a dirty bomb but could not produce a nuclear explosion.” “Pakistani military authorities found it ‘inconceivable that a nuclear scientist would travel to Afghanistan without getting clearance from Pakistani officials,’ because Pakistan ‘maintains a strict watch on many of its nuclear scientists, using a special arm of the Army’s general headquarters to monitor them even after retirement.’” Although Mahmood is not allowed to speak to reporters, his son is. According to him, “My father never went along.” Bin Laden “asked him about how to make a bomb and things like that. But my father wouldn’t help him. He told him, ‘It’s not so easy. you can’t just build a bomb, you can’t just do it with a few thousand rupees. You need a big institution. You should forget it’” (Baker 2002.). Therefore, they likely were incapable of providing truly helpful information because their expertise was not in bomb design, which might be useful to terrorists, but rather in the processing of fissile material, which is almost certainly beyond the capacities of a nonstate group. As a Pakistani nuclear scientist working at Princeton put it, Mahmood “may not actually have much more knowledge than you would get from an undergraduate degree in nuclear physics. physicist David Albright concludes that “if al Qaeda had remained in Afghanistan, it would have likely acquired nuclear weapons eventually” and that “al Qaeda was intensifying its long-term goal to acquire nuclear weapons and would have likely succeeded if it had remained powerful in Afghanistan for several more years” (2002). There was no evidence al-Qaeda had acquired nuclear weapons or had collected a cadre of nuclear scientists or engineers. If al-Qaeda had any visions at all about obtaining an atomic bomb, these seem to have been at most a distant glint based on some very limited and preliminary probes. That they may have had dreams at all is perhaps “astounding” given the rudimentary state of the group’s science capacities, its limited resources, and its severe isolation. It took Pakistan it took Pakistan 27 years to make a nuke. Pakistani scientists like Mahmood “would probably have provided extensive and ongoing assistance” if the 9/11 attacks had not led to cutting off contacts between Pakistani scientists and al-Qaeda. However, the Pakistanis were keeping careful watch on their scientists and materials even before 9/11–specifically, Mahmood had, as noted, been sacked merely for suggesting aiding the nuclear programs of other Muslim states (not terrorists), and they had allowed him only three visits to Afghanistan in all of 2001 (Khan and Moore 2001). This process was much intensified after Pakistan’s A. Q. Khan network–which had informally supplied nuclear information to several states (but not to the Taliban or to any substate groups)–was exposed in 2004 (Langewiesche 2007, chs. 3-4). Albright concludes that any al-Qaeda atomic efforts were “seriously disrupted”–indeed, “nipped in the bud”–by the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Whatever his evaluation of the situation before the invasion, Albright concludes that after the attack “the overall chance of al Qaeda detonating a nuclear explosive appears on reflection to be low” (2002). Allison soberly relays–without the slightest effort at critical evaluation much less skepticism–a report of an Arabic-language magazine that bin Laden’s agents by 1998 had purchased no less than twenty nuclear warheads “from Chechen mobsters in exchange for $30 million in cash and two tons of opium” (2004, 27). Allison’s source is a Seattle Times article which also notes that the magazine report and other ones from the time inspired “a spate of alarming, unconfirmed and exaggerated news reports” that played off those original reports and that these, themselves, remain unconfirmed (Port and Smith 2001). Very much in the game is the London Times which suggested that bin Laden had already collected tactical nuclear weapons by 1998 (Binyon 1998). If any of those reports are true, one might think the terrorist group (or their Chechen suppliers) would have tried to set one of those things off by now. says bin Laden “never allowed me to probe his claim that he has nuclear weapons,” Zawahiri, who Mir thinks is “the real brain behind bin Laden” and “the real strategist,” told him about purchasing the Russian suitcase bombs. http://www.abc.net.au/tv/enoughrope/transcripts/s1071804.htm. In a 2006 interview, Mir made a number of assertions relying “on my own investigations,” not simply “on claims by al-Qaeda,” that bear questioning. 1. Iran is supporting al-Qaeda. 2. Russia is supporting the Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan. 3. Al-Qaeda smuggled three suitcase nuclear weapons into Europe in 2000 destined for London, Paris, and California. 4. It has smuggled many kilos of enriched uranium into the United States for dirty bomb projects.

    2010: Although the likelihood of a nuclear terrorist attack may be relatively low… Al Qaeda appears to
    be much less capable of conducting a major attack against the United States, and especially a catastrophic attack using a nuclear weapon, than it was when it had a base of operations in Afghanistan. Since the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, however, al Qaeda has lost a key
    sanctuary and much of its original senior leadership. Publicly available information leaves little
    doubt that the group’s intentions remain unchanged. as the influence and capabilities of its
    central leadership have waned, the source of the terrorist threat has shifted toward regional groups affiliated with al Qaeda and homegrown extremists inspired by it, neither of which are likely to possess the knowledge, skills, resources, or discipline necessary to plan and successfully carry out a nuclear attack. repeated strikes against terrorist operatives using unmanned aerial vehicles operating in Pakistan. These efforts “have put the organization into one of its most difficult positions since the early days of Operation
    Enduring Freedom in late 2001,” and have also “dealt a significant blow to al-Qa’ida’s near-term efforts to develop a sophisticated CBRN [chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear] attack capability.” if Tehran does pursue and develop nuclear weapons, this could be the catalyst for a wave of proliferation in the Middle East. As one analyst notes, “The real danger is that Iran’s nuclearization would help create
    a region in which four or five nations are nuclear-armed, instead of just one (Israel).” While the direct transfer of a nuclear weapon would certainly be the easiest route from a terrorist group’s perspective,
    several factors suggest that it is also highly unlikely. Nuclear weapons are an extraordinarily valuable commodity that any state would be reluctant to part with. Second, any state that deliberately provided a terrorist group with a nuclear weapon would run the risk of being discovered and suffering the consequences. Third, it is also unlikely that a regime would willingly entrust a terrorist group with such a powerful weapon, since there would be no way to ensure that the group would carry out an attack
    against the intended target rather than another state or even the sponsoring regime itself. efforts to help the Russian government reduce, consolidate, and secure its nuclear arsenal have been underway for more than a decade, the sheer size of that arsenal, the incomplete accounting of Russia’s weapon stockpiles, and limited or problematic safety measures at its nuclear facilities have contributed to lingering questions
    over Moscow’s ability to safeguard its weapons. First, large stockpiles of fissile material can be found
    throughout the world in military as well as civilian facilities, some of which are inadequately
    monitored and protected. Second, building a crude nuclear device once a sufficient amount
    of this material has been obtained, although not an easy task, is certainly within the realm of
    possibility. Given the inherent difficulty of detecting nuclear weapons and material, especially from
    any significant distance, locating and stopping terrori

  5. Elliott Auguste says:

    I value the article post.Thanks Again. Awesome.

  6. Jimmy says:

    Now I’m scared of being bombed worse than ever and I live in Kentucky! Where fort Knox reside. People should not be able to post how bombs are made, it should be illegal !!!! I pray that all terrorist burn in hell…

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