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How to Survive Nuclear Terrorists

Nuclear Terrorists
by Cliff Montgomery, Copyright ©
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Since we in the free world are clearly in a war on terror for the long haul, we need to confront the possibility that terrorists are likely to obtain a nuclear weapon and use it against the U.S.
It's a question we must ask sooner than later. In recent years that beating Heart of Terror, Iran has conducted a successful series of tests using its own ballistic missiles, each "with the capacity to reach Israel," according to a story in the New York Times.

What Happens If Iran Puts Nukes on its Ballistic Missiles?

Of course, the missiles aren't topped with nukes -- not yet, anyway. According to the Times however, evidence suggests a cash-poor Russia may have been slipping Iranian scientists a few ballistic secrets. If true, it might be hard to know what other secrets may have been slipped to the country that still calls the U.S. "the Great Satan."

Muslim countries with nukes aren't really a new thing. Pakistan, for instance, has nukes, and has been perhaps the most helpful of all Muslim nations in helping the rest of the world find those who kill innocents in the name of Allah.

Nuclear Threat from Pakistan

At least, that's how it used to be, just a few years earlier. Today, Pakistan is a lot more likely to support anti-U.S. sentiment in Iran, than seek to root out Islamic fundamentalists who oppose the West.

U.S. drones have been bombing the heck out of the Pakistan countryside, targetting suspected Al Qaeda and supporters; however, instead of stamping out support for Al Qaeda, they're succeeding in inciting terror across Pakistan, as drones have killed several civilians, including first responders and even people who show up at funerals.

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Hate for America is growing across Pakistan.

We can assume that this hate is also shared by several people in government -- people who would be willing to deal with Iran; and that could mean selling nuclear weapons.

Remember, Pakistan has a nuclear arsenal.

Iran, we can guess, would do anything to get their hands on it.

Three Ways That Terrorists Can Get a Nuclear Bomb

1.) If terror-supporting nations like Iran could steal or buy a bomb from anywhere, it would surely be Russia; the complete collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990 created an economic vacuum that continues to this day. Rumors abound of nuclear weapons and uranium making it to the black market, trafficked and sold by Russian mobsters out to make a buck.

2) A starving, brilliant nuclear scientist may be tempted to sell his or her secrets to the highest bidder.

3.) Even if Iran and terrorist groups did buy secrets to build nuclear weaopns, there would almost certainly have to be a battery of nuclear testing done before terrorists were certain they have the kind of nuke we usually think of -- and a nuclear blast is a damn hard thing to conceal, especially these days.

4.) Even if they somehow get the secrets to the Bomb, most lack the means to deliver it to anyplace that could do a deal of damage. Having the baddest nuke in the world ain't gonna matter if it just sits in the middle of Afghanistan -- it has to be a payload on a missile of some kind to be effective. And, with the governments around the world watching the planes, and the higher-ups throughout the Middle East being 'moderates' (whatever that means), even in Iran, this last option doesn't appear to be a very realistic one.

If a terrorist can't even light a pair of explosive shoes on a plane these days without being stopped, I doubt they can sneak a nuke on board, take control of the plane, and slam it somewhere. Possible, but not likely.

How Nuclear Terrorists Are Likely to Strike

If we do suffer a nuke attack, I think it will most certainly be thru either:

A.) The use of a dirty bomb -- a small, relatively normal explosive that uses a radioactive agent to also release radioactivity at detonation, enough to infect a whole city block. Certainly not a 'nuke' in the traditional sense, but one that can do a great deal of damage to people nonetheless.

USA Today's Dan Vergano wrote a story in Nov 2001 detailing the worries that surfaced at a weeklong meeting of the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), hosted in Vienna at the end of October that year. Held a mere month and a half after the attacks on New York and Washington, the IAEA devoted its time to discussing ways to combat nuclear terrorism in the post-Sept. 11 world.

"[The IAEA] warned ... that terrorists may steal radioactive medical or industrial waste materials to build 'dirty bombs' aimed at subways, train stations and other public places," Vergano wrote. "Exploded with dynamite, a dirty bomb might kill hundreds through radiation poisoning and could contaminate large areas and stoke nuclear fears."

Vergano reported that about 18 pounds of stolen plutonium would be needed to craft a bomb. He's right in recognizing the matter's importance, since nuclear materials appear to be stolen rather often. Since 1993, the IAEA has confirmed 376 cases of illicit sales of stolen radioactive materials.

B.) An attack on a nuclear power plant, nuclear facility, or vehicle carrying radioactive material. This could be an interesting scenario; in doing a story on airline security, I discovered that the privately-owned security companies protecting most nuke plants now are the same ones who were thrown out of the airline industry after 9/11 -- Argenbright, the same boys who messed up so badly that day at the Boston airport, now handles security at most nuke plants.

In fact a secret, government-sponsored test on nuke plants' security conducted a few months after 9/11 found that the guards are at least quite consistent. A number of government spooks were given orders to try out the guards at these plants, by getting firmly inside the nuke plants without being stopped.

A great number succeeded.

"The security guards at half the nuclear power plants in the United States have failed to repel mock terrorist attacks against safety systems designed to prevent a reactor meltdown. These are so-called "force-on-force" exercises supervised by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The NRC refuses to take enforcement action in response to the failures, and is in the process of weakening the rules of the game in response to industry complaints.

Sabotage of nuclear power plants may be the greatest domestic vulnerability in the United States today. This is the time to strengthen, not weaken, nuclear regulation."

Paul Leventhal, Commencement Address Franklin & Marshall College 2001

And, since a nuclear plant harnesses 1,000 times the radiation released by the average nuclear warhead, it is the Big Worry. One successful attack could create 100,000 deaths and the loss on untold billions in contaminated areas, buildings and equipment, according to some experts.

Imagine, for example, if terrorists were able to strike Three Mile Island (a nuclear power plant) and cause a nuclear meltdown. Three Mile Island, for those of you who remember, created quite a stir in 1979, when it experienced a partial nuclear meltdown. A full meltdown would have been a disaster.

Accident at Three Mile Island Highlights Dangers of Terrorists Striking a Nuclear Power Plant

Even in the Three Mile Island accident where at least two equipment failures were severely compounded by human errors, two lines of defense were still not breached -- essentially all of the radioactivity remained sealed in the thick steel reactor vessel, and that vessel was sealed inside the heavily reinforced concrete and steel lined "containment" building which was never even challenged. The surrounding population was never in danger -- but considering Three Mile Island's proximity to people, and the number of casualties and fear and despair that would take place around the U.S., we can bet that terrorists are likely to strike a nuclear power plant at some point, or at least make an attempt.

Accident at Chernobyl Highlights Dangers of Nuclear Meltdown

The Soviet Chernobyl reactor, built on a much less safe design concept, did not have such a containment structure; if it did, that disaster would have been averted. Terrorists know about Chernobyl; a well planned strike could cause a nuclear meltdown, and mass casualties across the surrounding region, even making it uninhabitable. That makes a nuclear power plant an attractive target for a terrorist strike.

In any case, the 'dirty bomb' and the blowing-up-of-a-nuke-plant scenario seem like the most realistic possibilities of a nuclear terrorist strike. Both use the simple release of radioactivity as a 'weapon', rather than anything approaching a nuclear explosion.

Both would also be far cheaper, and far more in line with traditional Muslim terrorist methods.

Possible Attacks on Hazmat Shipments

Other possibilities could include a nuclear waste truck or train thievery, or 'accident'; after all, one out every 50 HazMat shipments contain radioactive materials, and about three million packages of radioactive materials are shipped throughout the United States each year, to paraphrase the Nuclear Blast and Fallout Shelters FAQ Webpage, part of a site dedicated to studying the possible effects of radioactivity and nukes on a population. But that may conceivably be less of a hazard even than a 'dirty bomb' -- and, in these days of heightened security, perhaps even less of a possibility.

Can America Win a War Against Nuclear Terrorists?

The very best way, of course, is to stop nuclear terrorists in their tracks by either taking them out of circulation one way or another, or by taking this insane war to them so that they no longer have time to plan and prepare for another massive strike. Any huge terror operation needs time and quiet on its side in order to succeed -- take that away, and it simply can't be done, period.

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