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Liam Fox spoke about the threat of nuclear terrorism at Kings College today. He didn’t use apocalyptic language but the facts he quoted show how frighteningly possible nuclear terrorism is:

  • In 1997 Technical Area 18, a highly secure area of Los Alamos National laboratory in New Mexico, was successfully breached by US special forces in a special security exercise.  They were able to steal enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb.
  • Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the German government reported more than 700 cases of attempted nuclear sales, including 60 instances that involved seizure of nuclear materials.  And that was only in the first three years.
  • Following the collapse of the Taliban after the invasion of Afghanistan, American forces uncovered details of an Al Qaeda nuclear planning cell.  Osama bin Laden has called for the killing of 4 million Americans.
  • The National Nuclear Security Administration in America has identified 220 buildings at 52 sites in Russia that are in dire need of treatment. In June 2001 two people in Russia’s Murmansk region plundered a Soviet era nuclear powered lighthouse, one of 132 such lighthouses that lie unguarded and uninspected along Russia’s northern coast.
  • You could achieve a Hiroshima level explosion with about 100lbs of uranium 235 or between nine and 33 pounds of plutonium… of the 7 million cargo containers that will arrive at US ports this year, fewer than 5% will be open for inspection.

Nuclear terrorism is so much more problematic than rogue nuclear states because "attackers have no return address and thus, traditional deterrence will not apply". Fox also said that for deterrence to work the enemy have to want to be deterred, but judging from what he saw in Tehran recently some people there positively welcomed the end of the world:

"These
people hate us not because of what we do but who we are.  They hate our values,
our freedom, our entire way of life.  They will never give in and, therefore,
neither must we."

In the questions afterwards he said that some of his parliamentary colleagues had warned him against painting such a grim picture, but that he thought he should tell it like it is because it isn’t said enough. He also criticised the press for being too interested in trivial matters like Big Brother to give such threats the coverage they need:

"A nuclear attack as an act of terrorist aggression would make 9/11 look like the most innocent of dress rehearsals.  The danger is clear and present and potentially cataclysmic.  We have been warned.  It is time to wake up."

Sadly I don’t think this will sink in for most people until it happens. Download the full speech here.

Deputy Editor

18 comments for: The threat of nuclear terrorism isn’t going away

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