Nuclear Terrorism: A New Threat
Nuclear terrorism refers to any person or persons who detonate a nuclear weapon in an act of terrorism (meaning illegal or immoral use of violence for a political or religious cause). Some definitions of nuclear terrorism include the sabotage of a nuclear facility and/or the detonation of a radiological device, colloquially termed a dirty bomb, but consensus is lacking. 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; or with the intent to cause substantial damage to property or to the environment; or with the intent to compel a natural or legal person, an international organization or a State to do or refrain from doing an act", according to the 2005 United Nations International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism.
The possibility of terrorist organizations using nuclear weapons (including those of a small size, such as those contained within suitcases) is something which is known of within U.S. culture, and at times previously discussed within the political settings of the U.S. It is considered plausible that terrorists could acquire a nuclear weapon. However, despite thefts and trafficking of small amounts of fissile material, all low-concern and less than Category III Special nuclear material (SNM), there is no credible evidence that any terrorist group has succeeded in obtaining Category I SNM, the necessary multi-kilogram critical mass amounts of weapons grade plutonium required to make a nuclear weapon.
Nuclear terrorism could include:
• Acquiring or fabricating a nuclear weapon
• Fabricating a dirty bomb
• Attacking a nuclear reactor, e.g., by disrupting critical inputs (e.g. water supply)
• Attacking or taking over a nuclear-armed submarine, plane, or base.
After 9/11, nuclear power plants were to be prepared for an attack by a large, well-armed terrorist group. But the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, in revising its security rules, decided not to require that plants be able to defend themselves against groups carrying sophisticated weapons. According to a study by the Government Accountability Office, the N.R.C. appeared to have based its revised rules "on what the industry considered reasonable and feasible to defend against rather than on an assessment of the terrorist threat itself".
Journal of Bioterrorism & Biodefence,