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To protect our people, we must act with a sense of purpose without delay. Three Nuclear Security Summits have been held so far, and the list of invitees has grown together with the importance and relevance of the gift baskets that countries have been willing to commit to. The first meeting was held in Washington, D.

The next and perhaps final summit is planned for in Washington, D. These three Nuclear Security Summits have made significant progress toward forging global awareness on the issue of nuclear terrorism and creating international and domestic consensus to adopt costly yet necessary measures to protect countries from the threat of nuclear terrorism. Most notably, several countries attending the summits pledged their intention to convert civilian nuclear facilities from highly enriched uranium HEU to non-weapons useable materials. Included among these countries are some legacy countries, such as Mexico, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Belgium, United Kingdom, and Norway, and some nuclear newcomers, such as Vietnam, whose nuclear energy program is only in its infancy.

Nuclear terrorism and nuclear security | Matthew Bunn

In addition, the countries in attendance, including Indonesia, which previously opposed the nuclear security agenda because it was seen as a way to discriminate between developed and developing countries, pledged to adopt more stringent borders and export control laws and to design better transportation, accounting, consolidation, and storage practices for nuclear material. Despite geopolitical crises such as the one unfolding in Ukraine and the increasingly tense territorial disputes in East Asia among regional and great powers, global commitment and international cooperation focused on combating and eliminating the threat of nuclear terrorism have not been weakened.

This development may suggest that leaders of countries with otherwise conflicting national priorities and strategic objectives acknowledge the need to work collectively to prevent terrorist organizations from gaining access to nuclear material. Yet much remains to be done to address this danger.

Most of the efforts to reduce the risks of nuclear terrorism focus on preventing external attacks that could create a Chernobyl-like event or would enable a terrorist to steal fissile material to make a nuclear bomb. This mindset, and the perception of the nature of the threat, has resulted in a widespread response that has focused on strengthening and enhancing the physical protection of nuclear facilities and reducing the amount of highly enriched uranium and plutonium that exists at vulnerable locations.


The adoption of more sophisticated monitoring devices and the deployment of better equipped and trained armed guards have become the immediate strategy implemented to address the threat of nuclear terrorism. Some of the specific cases that Bunn and Sagan examine include the assassination of Indian President Indira Gandhi by her two Sikh bodyguards, the organizational failures that led to the first Ford Hood shooting by U. Among the lessons learned that are discussed in the paper, three are particularly important.

First, do not assume that serious insider problems are not in your organization. Second, do not assume that background checks will solve the insider problem: these programs are effective but they are not bulletproof. Measures to complement these strategies should be put in place when these strategies fail.

Third, do not assume that security rules are followed. Establishing clear policies is an indispensable element for organizations to work effectively; an over-reliance on rules, however, may weaken the ability of an organization to think strategically and anticipate insider threats. Detonated in a large city, such a bomb could kill , people or more.

Building a full-scale bomb would not be easy, so terrorists might attempt instead to cause other forms of nuclear chaos, possibly using conventional explosives to blast and scatter radioactive material around a city. There are millions of potential sources of radioactive material, which is widely used in hospitals, research facilities, and industry -- so preventing access is extremely difficult.

Concern for nuclear security complicates the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, such as generating electricity. Ensuring that a nation using nuclear power for energy does not extract plutonium for bomb building is not easy.

Nuclear terrorism

Simple record keeping could be faked or circumvented. Regulations requiring human inspection and video monitoring are surely not foolproof.

This sort of device would be especially useful if it could also detect signs that the reactor was being operated in a way to maximize plutonium production rather than power. Such devices are already being designed and tested. Of course, if dangerous nuclear materials are diverted from a power reactor, or probably more likely from some other source, preventing their transportation to a possible point of use remains a serious problem.

Protecting U. Individual inspection of each container would be costly and very disruptive — each can hold 30 tons, and roughly 10 million arrive in the United States every year. Various ways of detecting nuclear materials hidden in such containers have been proposed or tested, but most are ineffective.

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One new approach has shown promise, though. As the containers pass the device, they receive pulses of neutrons, a common subatomic particle often used to induce nuclear reactions. In this case, the neutrons would induce fission in any weapons-grade nuclear materials within the container. The fission, in turn, produces radioactive substances that would emit gamma rays, a form of radiation that could be reliably detected from outside the container.

Still, it leaves residual radioactivity and could be shielded with a large amount of water. High-energy X-rays leave no radioactivity, and may even be able to detect shields against their beams, but they damage sensitive material like photographic film. A simulation program might be engineered that would help shippers in packing, ensuring that it leaves acceptable detail for current security scanning of the contents. Incentives might include charging for more complex scans when items are shielded by their packing. There are already real-time mutual surveillance systems in operation between Russia and the U.

A challenge for engineers would be to expand such schemes at a reasonable cost. No doubt other nuclear challenges will surface and additional engineering methods will be needed to protect against the variety of possible nuclear assaults. Bernstein, A. DOI: Bowden, N. Experimental results from an antineutrino detector for cooperative monitoring of nuclear reactors. Garwin, R. Megawatts and Megatons. New York: Knopf. Hecker, S. National Research Council. Washington, D. Nuclear Threat Initiative. Slaughter, D.

Obama says nuclear terrorist attack would 'change our world

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