Nuclear Terror Risks Demand Global Attention, Report Says

(Nov. 18) -
(Nov. 18) -

Despite progress toward securing nuclear weapon-usable materials around the globe, nations must do more to prevent terrorists from acquiring the means to create a nuclear nightmare, a major new Harvard University report urged today (see GSN, Sept. 27, 2007).

Securing the Bomb 2008, the seventh report in an annual series, warns that it is difficult the estimate the likelihood of a terrorist nuclear attack, but the consequences of such an event require world leaders to take immediate steps.

"Even a 1 percent chance over the next 10 years would be enough to justify substantial action to reduce the risk, given the scale of the consequences," says the report by Matthew Bunn, of Harvard's Project on Managing the Atom.

"No one in their right mind would operate a nuclear power plant upwind of a major city that had a 1 percent chance over 10 years of blowing sky-high -- the risk would be understood by all to be too great," the report adds. "But that, in effect, is what we are doing -- or worse -- by managing the world's nuclear stockpiles as we do today."

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States began funding efforts to help Russia consolidate its nuclear weapons into fewer, better secured storage facilities. About 75 percent of major security upgrades to those sites have been completed, the report says, "but a great deal more remains to be done."

Not just in Russia. The report reminds readers of a South African incident 12 months ago in which intruders penetrated the security perimeter of the Pelindaba nuclear facility that holds hundreds of kilograms of highly enriched uranium. The attackers did not steal any material, but they gained entry to sensitive parts of the facility and were able to leave without being apprehended. Nobody has been charged with the crime (see GSN, Dec. 20, 2007).

"The Pelindaba break-in leads to one inescapable conclusion: the world urgently needs a global campaign to ensure that every nuclear weapon and every stock of potential nuclear bomb material worldwide is secured against the kinds of threats terrorists and criminals have demonstrated they can pose," the report says. "The incident is also a reminder that political heavy lifting will be needed to overcome the serious obstacles to sensitive nuclear security cooperation around the world."

Complementing his report, Bunn today released a set of suggestions for U.S. President-elect Barack Obama to improve global nuclear security.

"Obama has an historic opportunity ... [to] reduce the danger of nuclear terrorism to a fraction of its current level during his first term in office," says Preventing Nuclear Terrorism: An Agenda for the Next President.

Bunn calls for "a comprehensive strategy" consisting of four major elements: reducing and securing nuclear material stockpiles, detecting and defeating terrorist nuclear ambitions, deterring states from transferring nuclear materials to terrorists, and preventing nuclear smuggling (Greg Webb, Global Security Newswire, Nov. 18).

[Readers' Notice: Securing the Bomb 2008 was commissioned by the Nuclear Threat Initiative. NTI is the sole sponsor of Global Security Newswire, which is published independently by the National Journal Group.]

November 18, 2008
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Despite progress toward securing nuclear weapon-usable materials around the globe, nations must do more to prevent terrorists from acquiring the means to create a nuclear nightmare, a major new Harvard University report urged today (see GSN, Sept. 27, 2007).