Global Security Newswire
Daily News on Nuclear, Biological & Chemical Weapons, Terrorism and Related Issues
Expert Report Warns of Continued Nuclear Terrorism Danger
Russian and U.S. experts in a collaborative report on Monday warned of the continued worldwide danger that terrorists might acquire and use a nuclear weapon, according to Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs (see GSN, Jan. 31).
"If you look at the U.S. and Russia together, we own about 90 percent of the problem -- more of the weapons, less of the nuclear materials," former Energy Department intelligence chief Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, a Belfer Center senior fellow and lead U.S. author of the study, said in released comments. "So it's only right that these two countries share their expertise and look hard at ways to work together to lower the risks."
The first such expert analysis on nuclear terrorism by the two former Cold War enemies warns, "If current approaches toward eliminating the threat are not replaced with a sense of urgency and resolve, the question will become not if but when, and on what scale, the first act of nuclear terrorism occurs."
"The U.S.-Russia Joint Threat Assessment on Nuclear Terrorism" advises steps for increasing the defenses around nuclear warheads as well as stockpiles of fissile material that could be used to fuel an improvised nuclear bomb. The experts recommended reducing the number of sites housing weapon-usable material to the greatest extent possible. The report also urges heightened intelligence and law enforcement collaboration to detect and stop nuclear trafficking and to break up terrorist efforts.
Atomic installations that could be deliberately damaged or disrupted in order to release massive amounts of radiological emissions are singled out as in need of better security.
"Russia and the United States have paid more attention to nuclear weapons and nuclear deterrence. ... As a result we pay insufficient attention to the threat of nuclear terrorism, which constitutes a more real threat than the enormous arsenals of nuclear weapons in both countries," former Gen. Pavel Zolotarev, lead Russian author and deputy head of the Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies in Moscow, said in released remarks. "The threat of nuclear terrorism is increasing. Our response should anticipate the dynamics of the threat rather than lag behind it."
The experts found that the potential for terrorists to acquire enough plutonium or weapon-grade uranium to build an improvised nuclear weapon was worryingly high. They also contended that the demise of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden does not mean that other members of the terrorist network have lost interest in possessing a nuclear weapon.
The assessment describes the years-long effort by al-Qaeda to obtain enough fissile material and know-how to build a rudimentary nuclear bomb, with explosive trials even being carried out in Afghanistan.
Extremists based in the North Caucasus have also conducted surveillance of nuclear warhead depots, have schemed to steal a nuclear-armed submarine and have positioned radiological substances in Moscow. They have also on multiple occasions threatened to strike atomic energy sites, according to the report (Harvard University Belfer Center For Science and International Affairs release, June 6).
Sept. 27, 2013
A fact sheet on current and projected costs of maintaining the U.S. nuclear deterrent, produced by the Center for Nonproliferation Studies.
July 18, 2013
The submarine proliferation resource collection is designed to highlight global trends in the sale and acquisition of diesel- and nuclear-powered submarines. It is structured on a country-by-country basis, with each country profile consisting of information on capabilities, imports and exports.