Must read articles:

Charles Meade and Roger Molander. "Considering the Effects of a Catastrophic Terrorist Attack." RAND Corporation, 2006. (PDF)

Ted Daley. "Going Ballistic: Saving LA From Nuclear Terror." Los Angeles City Beat, July 2008. (PDF)

Points to keep in mind:

In France more than 80% of its electricity is generated by nuclear power plants.

Nuclear power currently provides 16-18% of electricity generated in the world.

Nuclear power plants are safe as long as all safety and security rules are implemented.

Nuclear waste is only 1/3 of the total fuel initially fed to a nuclear reactor.

MOX-fuel is a type of nuclear fuel that is produced partially from nuclear waste. As a result, this fuel type helps reduce the amount of nuclear waste.

Points of concern:

The majority of nuclear power plants today use uranium that is suitable for nuclear weapons.

More and more states want to have a full nuclear cycle. This means that along with nuclear fuel production, countries can acquire capabilities to produce nuclear weapons.

The budget of the IAEA is too small to address all security needs in the world of growing demand for nuclear energy and nuclear power plant construction.

One positive thing about nuclear weapons:

Today nuclear fuel removed from nuclear weapons can be used to produce nuclear energy and power thousands of homes with electricity.

The “Megaton to Megawatts” program allows for the fuel from Russian nuclear weapons to be blended down and power every tenth light bulb in the United States.

A terrorist bomb:

A terrorist bomb, also known as an improvised nuclear device (IND),
is a crude nuclear bomb or a weapon, which is simple in its technology design.
A terrorist group’s choice for an IND would most likely be a gun-type nuclear device made with highly enriched uranium (HEU) in a casing about 9 feet long and about 28 inches in diameter.
It could be transported in a truck, SUV or a shipment container. The explosion yield of such a terrorist bomb could be in the range from 10 to
20 kilotons. The outcome of an IND explosion would be close to the
one in Hiroshima.
In 2001, CNN found drawings of a crude nuclear bomb in homes in
Kabul (Afghanistan), including the home of an al-Qaeda leader. Recently
the media stated that no one knows how many people received critical
information regarding a nuclear weapon design, which was acquired and
developed by notorious A.Q. Khan.

Some nuclear terrorism scenarios and outcomes of a terrorist nuclear bomb explosion can be found in Charles Ferguson and William Potter. "Improvised Nuclear Devices and Nuclear Terrorism." Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, 2005. (PDF)

Q&A to learn more on the topic:

How much time can it take to produce an IND?

For South Africa it took several years to produce a nuclear device in
the 1970s. In the 1980s, South Africa independently developed a sophisticated nuclear device with only 20 people participating in the actual construction. The South African government invested national resources in order to build the country’s nuclear weapon capability.

A terrorist group could build a nuclear bomb or IND within a year. This includs time to acquire basic materials, develop an explosion scenario, and build a bomb. Since a terrorist group is most likely to use stolen nuclear materials and technologies, the time frame to build a small nuclear bomb can be shorter for a terrorist group than for a national government.

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Can I learn some more technical details?

Plutonium-239, uranium-233 and uranium-235 are all referred to as Special Nuclear Materials (SNM).

Plutonium (PU-239) and enriched uranium (U-235) can be the primary ingredients of nuclear explosives. Only a small amount of this material
is needed to completely destroy an area within one mile and instantly
kill thousands of people.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has established the amount of SNM sufficient to make a nuclear device. Check out “Great Links” page.

The IAEA "critical mass" standard, or the smallest amount of fissile material needed for a sustained nuclear chain reaction (explosion):

For plutonium, the IAEA established amount is 8 kg or 17.6 lbs – a weight which would equal the physical size
of a plum.
For uranium, the IAEA established amount is 25 kg or 55 lbs – a weight which would equal the physical size
of a soccer ball.

What are some of  the policies that can help promote disarmament and ensure nuclear security?
  • Establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones, that allow alliances of several countries to eliminate weapons from their territory, ensure the highest standards for implementing the IAEA nuclear nonproliferation requirements and promote global nuclear disarmament.
  • National political and economic support of the IAEA nonproliferation activities. (
  • Establishment of relevant screening system in the United States ports and all over the world to prevent a deadly terrorist device coming into the country.

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