Book Chapter - Routledge

Reducing the Risks of Nuclear Theft and Terrorism

Despite the dramatic progress made in over two decades of international cooperation to improve nuclear security – including the four-year effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material worldwide launched by U.S. President Barack Obama in 2009 – the risk of nuclear terrorism remains unacceptably high, and some nuclear material remains dangerously vulnerable to nuclear theft. Though the leaders at successive global summits on nuclear security have identified nuclear terrorism as one of the top threats to international security, this conclusion remains controversial.  Policymakers in many countries doubt whether it is really plausible that terrorists could get nuclear material or make a nuclear bomb; that even if they did, it would probably be used on New York or Washington, making it primarily a U.S. problem; and that in any case their own nuclear material is adequately secured. This complacency is the enemy of action.

This chapter assesses whether terrorists are actually seeking nuclear weapons; whether a terrorist organization could, if it had the needed nuclear materials, be capable of building a nuclear bomb; whether terrorist organizations could plausibly get the needed nuclear materials; and what the consequences of a terrorist nuclear attack might be. The chapter then describes the substantial progress made in reducing the risk of nuclear theft in recent years and the gaps that still remain. Finally, the chapter offers suggestions for strengthening nuclear security for the long haul.

About This Book Chapter

Reducing the Risks of Nuclear Theft and Terrorism

Reducing the Risks of Nuclear Theft and Terrorism
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For Academic Citation: Bunn, Matthew and Nickolas Roth. “Reducing the Risks of Nuclear Theft and Terrorism.” In Routledge Handbook of Nuclear Proliferation and Policy, Oxon, England: Routledge, 2015.

The Authors