denotes the use, or threat of the use, of nuclear weapons
or radiological weapons
in acts of terrorism
attacks against facilities where radioactive materials are present. In legal
terms, nuclear terrorism is an offense committed if a person unlawfully and intentionally “uses in any way radioactive material … with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury”, according to International conventions
The notion of terrorist organizations using nuclear weapons (especially very small ones, such as suitcase nukes) has been a threat in American rhetoric and culture.
Two of the main dangers associated with nuclear reactors are nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism. Terrorism involving nuclear weapons or radioactive materials could take a variety of forms. Terrorists could:
- Attack a nuclear reactor.
- Disrupt critical inputs (eg., water supply) for the safe running of a nuclear reactor.
- Steal nuclear fuel or waste.
- Acquire fissile material and fabricate a crude nuclear bomb.
- Acquire a ready-made nuclear weapon or take over a nuclear-armed submarine, plane or base.
It may be possible for a terrorist group to acquire or build the capability to detonate a radiological or 'dirty bomb
'. A 'dirty bomb
' is composed of depleted uranium or plutonium produced as a byproduct of the nuclear fuel cycle in a civilian reactor. Detonation of such a weapon is not as powerful as a nuclear blast, but would produce considerable radioactive fallout
. This type of weapon may be very appealing to terrorist groups as it is highly successful in instilling fear and panic amongst a population (particularly because of the widespread fear of radiation poisoning
), and would make the immediate area surrounding the blast untenable for some period of time, disrupting attempts to repair the damage and reassure the population.
Planned and attempted attacks
In June 2002, U.S. citizen Jose Padilla
was arrested for allegedly planning a radiological attack on the city of Chicago
; however, he was never charged with such conduct. He was instead convicted of charges that he conspired to "murder, kidnap and maim" people overseas.
In November 2006, MI5 warned that Islamic terrorists, specifically the al-Qaida were planning on using nuclear weapons against cities in the United Kingdom by obtaining the bombs via clandestine means.
In June 2007 Fox News claimed that the FBI released to the press the name of the operations leader for developing tactical plans for detonating nuclear bombs in several American cities simultaneously as Adnan Gulshair el Shukrijumah.
It is also possible that a terrorist group could utilise radiological agents (such as thallium
) in order to poison officials or members of government. These agents could be injected into or ingested by the target, resulting in radiological poisoning and death, either immediately or over an extended period of time. Although no such act has yet been committed by terrorists, some covert intelligence agencies have been accused of using this tactic in the past. Examples include:
Recovering lost weapons & material
In August 2002, the United States launched a program to track and secure enriched uranium
from 24 Soviet
-style reactors in 16 countries, in order to reduce the risk of the materials falling into the hands of terrorists or "rogue states
". The first such operation was Project Vinca
, an operation in Serbia
"to remove a quantity of highly enriched uranium, sufficient to produce 2-1/2 nuclear weapons from a research reactor near downtown Belgrade
In order to reduce the danger of attacks using nuclear waste material, European Union Commissioner Loyola de Palacio suggested in November 2002 the creation of common standards in the European Union, especially in the new member states operating Soviet-era reactors, for subterranean nuclear waste disposal.
Countries involved in nuclear threat
Some nations have been identified as a "nuclear threat" by countries like USA, China et al. based on the perception of threat the countries' nukes and their misuse might pose. Pakistan tops the list of nations whose possession of nuclear weapons poses a serious and grave risk to international security by proliferation to various countries including North Korea. According to a recent poll of 100 US foreign policy experts by the Centre for American Progress and the Carnegie Endowment, both in Washington, Pakistan poses today’s greatest nuclear threat to the world. Pakistan's nuclear chief A.Q. Khan had also sold nuclear secrets in the black market and is likely to pose a threat in the form of a dirty bomb
Allegations of preparations to nuclear sabotage
The highest-ranking GRU defector Stanislav Lunev described alleged Soviet plans for using tactical nuclear weapons for sabotage against the United states in the event of war. He described Soviet-made suitcase nukes identified as RA-115s (or RA-115-01s for submersible weapons) which weigh from fifty to sixty pounds. These portable bombs can last for many years if wired to an electric source. “In case there is a loss of power, there is a battery backup. If the battery runs low, the weapon has a transmitter that sends a coded message – either by satellite or directly to a GRU post at a Russian embassy or consulate.” .
Lunev was personally looking for hiding places for weapons caches in the Shenandoah Valley area. He said that "it is surprisingly easy to smuggle nuclear weapons into the US" either across the Mexican border or using a small transport missile that can slip though undetected when launched from a Russian airplane US Congressman Curt Weldon supported claims by Lunev, but "Weldon said later the FBI discredited Lunev, saying that he exaggerated things." Searches of the areas identified by Lunev - who admits he never planted any weapons in the US - have been conducted, "but law-enforcement officials have never found such weapons caches, with or without portable nuclear weapons.
Allegations of privately owned nuclear weapons
According to high-ranking Russian SVR
, he had a meeting with two Russian businessman representing a state-created Chetek
corporation in 1991. They came up with a fantastic project of destroying large quantities of chemical wastes collected from Western countries at the island of Novaya Zemlya
(a test place for Soviet nuclear weapons) using an underground nuclear blast. The project was rejected by Canadian representatives, but one of the businessmen told Tretyakov that he keeps his own nuclear bomb at his dacha
. Tretyakov thought that man was insane, but the "businessmen" (Vladimir K. Dmitriev) replied: "Do not be so naive. With economic conditions the way they are in Russia today, anyone with enough money can buy a nuclear bomb. It's no big deal really" .