Nuclear Terrorism – Killing 100,000 People Not Very Difficult

By IPPNW* — Terrorists who wanted to kill 100,000 people and destroy a city could build a simple nuclear bomb, without much difficulty, by obtaining some Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU).

As little as 20 kg of HEU would provide the fuel for a possible bomb to even a fairly unsophisticated terrorist group. I probably could do it myself with the help of a few engineers and someone who understands how to use explosives.

Image: ICAN

Image: ICAN

The simplest way to get access to HEU is to steal the stuff from a research reactor or a reactor that makes isotopes for medical use.

Many of these reactors are guarded by a couple of guys with semiautomatic rifles, who could be overpowered or bribed. Obtaining fuel in this way would more likely lead to a usable weapon than stealing a bomb, which could not be made to work without codes and, usually, a critical gadget  for ignition.

In these research and commercial reactors, HEU generally exists in handy packages of 10 or 20 kg.  It is easy to carry, and the radiation, though harmful, is not lethal.

Low Enriched Uranium

Many experts have been worried for years that terrorist groups would make use of this relatively easy way to manufacture a nuclear weapon. About thirty years ago, an agreement was reached to do away with all this HEU and, instead, use Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) in the reactors or produce the isotopes in a cyclotron.

LEU cannot be used to make the Bomb.

US, Russia…

Little was done to implement this agreement for many years, but gradually the USA has been retrieving and repatriating much of the HEU it has sold over the years to countries all over the world. The US National Nuclear Security Administration has recovered more than one ton of HEU.

The US program has also supported the repatriation to Russia of another two tons of HEU and plutonium.

The following nations have now been relieved of their HEU: Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, Colombia, Denmark, Greece, Latvia, Libya, Mexico, the Philippines, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey and Ukraine. Removal of HEU is going on in other countries but is not yet finished.

A few non-cooperating countries need to understand what is at stake and close down this road to a terrorist nuclear bomb before our luck runs out.

*‘s article was published on International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), a non-partisan federation of national medical organizations in 62 countries, representing tens of thousands of doctors, medical students, other health workers, and concerned citizens who share the common goal of creating a more peaceful and secure world freed from the threat of nuclear annihilation. Go to Original

IPPNW was founded in 1980 by physicians from the United States and the former Soviet Union who shared a common commitment to the prevention of nuclear war between their two countries. Citing the first principal of the medical profession—that doctors have an obligation to prevent what they cannot treat—a global federation of physician experts came together to explain the medical and scientific facts about nuclear war to policy makers and to the public, and to advocate for the elimination of nuclear weapons from the world’s arsenals. IPPNW received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985.

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2012 Human Wrongs Watch

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