Feb 8, 2007

Nuclear terrorism risk seen growing

Posted by in categories: existential risks, nuclear weapons

Two new reports on global security conclude with a growing risk for nuclear terrorism Reuters report today.

The EastWest Institute and Chatham House, the two think-tanks behind the reports, cite that more states are pursuing their own nuclear ambitions and that the materials and engineering effort for a bomb “have all become commodities, more or less available to those determined enough to acquire them”.

The vulnerability of nuclear power plants are mentioned. This is highly relevant considering all the new power plants under planning or construction. Read about the planned terrorist attack on a nuclear power plant in Australia, “Australia nuclear plant plot trial opens in Paris”, Reuters.

But most suprisingly:

Ken Berry, author of the EastWest Institute report, said the rise of environmental militants would bring “an even bigger prospect that scientific personnel from the richest countries will aid eco-terrorist use of nuclear weapons or materials”.

This reminds me of Pentti Linkola, Finnish eco-philosopher and by many considered an eco-fascist. In a Wall Street Journal interview he expresses the view that World War III would be: “a happy occasion for the planet.… If there were a button I could press, I would sacrifice myself without hesitating, if it meant millions of people would die.”

Source: Reuters.

Read the reports; “Preventing Nuclear Terrorism” from EastWest Institute and The CBRN System: Assessing the threat of terrorist use of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons in the UK from Chatham House (The Royal Institute of International Affairs).


Comments — comments are now closed.

  1. Tom McCabe says:

    “The vulnerability of nuclear power plants are mentioned.”

  2. Tom McCabe says:


    Okay, let’s say Mr. Random Terrorist Guy wants to use a nuclear power plant for evil. He walks right through the first, second, and third doors, past the multiple checkpoints, and the security guards drop their weapons and get him a limo so he can cruise right through the plant in style. The plant operators all come out, jump to their feet, and shout “At your command, Sir!”

    Even in this ludicrous scenario, what’s Mr. Terrorist going to do? Melt down the core? Even assuming it’s an older nuclear plant that doesn’t use meltdown-proof equipment like pebble bed and several other types of reactors, what would happen? Obviously the plant would be wrecked, and a few hundred million dollars worth of equipment would be destroyed and a radioactive mess created that would take months to clean up. But the nuclear core is inconveniently surrounded with a two-to-three meter thick concrete shell, in addition to steel and other layers of heavy material. And unlike Chernobyl, Western reactors do not use large quantities of uncooled graphite as a moderator, eliminating the possibility of a graphite fire that would rip the plant apart. Nuclear plants are already probably the safest civilian industrial facilities in the world, with something like more than half the plant’s construction budget going to safety.

    Why has Lifeboat been talking so much about nuclear terrorism? Nuclear terrorism, on Nick Bostrom’s scale of risks, is a personal total disaster and a regional recoverable disaster. What about bioterrorism, nanoterrorism, or UFAI-terrorism, all of which are serious existential risks?

  3. I haven’t read the entire reports yet, as your scenario imply, I guess someone on the inside would be of great help. The Chatham house report states: “By attacking a nuclear power station, using conventional means (such as a large proximate explosion or the direct impact of a missile) to cause catastrophic breakdown of the reactor and its subsequent destruction.” Doesn’t seem to say much more than that.

    It’s scary to think that nuclear terror really has arrived with the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko.

    I agree that on the “existential risk”-scale nuclear terror is a lesser threat than NBIC-attacks. The difference is that nuclear terror could happend now and advanced enough NBIC-attacks (that wreak more havoc than a nuclear terror/error) are future threats.

    Maybe it’s my geostrategic position (in Norway) that makes me uncomfortable with nuclear power plants in my back yard. I admit my bias. :)

    See: Chenrobyl Fallout Map

  4. And if you have a look on the Lifeboat mainpage I think you’ll find one of the most thoughtful collections on the web of articles on exactly the threats you mention (bioterrorism, nanoterrorism, or UFAI-terrorism).

    A post to a blog, as this one, is a reference to a current news-article which tells you something about the mainstream perception of high-level threats.

  5. randpost says:

    Pentti Linkola is a nut case. Lives nearby :F.

  6. Tom McCabe says:

    “the direct impact of a missile)”

    Okay, since when do two-bit terrorist groups have missiles capable of ripping a large hole in several meters of solid concrete?