Nuclear terrorism

Background - June 27, 2006
"Nuclear terrorism is still often treated as science fiction - I wish it were. But unfortunately we live in a world of excess hazardous materials and abundant technological know-how, in which some terrorists clearly state their intention to inflict catastrophic casualties."

Plutonium shipments could make easy terrorist targets as they often travel through populated areas.

That's not our quote, it's UN General Secretary Kofi Annan's. He has good reason to be concerned by the threat of nuclear terrorism. The UN's International Atomic Energy Agency believe it is "far more likely" post 9/11 that terrorists could target nuclear facilities worldwide.

Because of their importance for the electricity supply system, the severe consequences of radioactive releases as well as because of their symbolic character, nuclear power plants are "attractive" targets for terrorist as well as for military attacks.

An attack on a nuclear facility can lead to radioactive releases equivalent to several times those released at Chernobyl. Nuclear facilities could be targets in case of war if a military use is suspected. The spectrum of possible modes of attack is very diverse. Attacks could be performed by air, on the ground and from the water. As further evidence shows that more and more terrorists are considering the nuclear option, industry and government plans to increase the number of reactors globally smacks of irresponsible stupidity.

Read here to find out just how mad it is:

  • Detailed plans of Britain's nuclear sites, including Sizewell, were found in a car linked to the July 2005 London bombings.

  • A terrorist strike on Sellafield's storage tanks of radioactive waste in the UK could kill over 2 million people. Due to the type of radioactive waste stored there the consequences of an attack could dwarf the effects of the Chernobyl disaster.

  • During 2004-05 there were over forty cases of potential security breaches at UK civil nuclear sites.

  • During 2005 three suspected terrorists were caught by the Lucas Heights nuclear research reactor near Sydney, Australia.

  • A taped interview shown on Al-Jazeera TV on September 10th 2002, contained a statement that Al Qaeda initially planned to include a nuclear plant in its 2001 attack sites.

  • To date, there have been six known direct attacks on nuclear power plants in France, South Africa, Switzerland, the Philippines, and Spain.

  • The International Policy Institute for Counter Terrorism database includes 167 terrorist incidents involving a nuclear target for the period 1970-1999.

One direct consequence of the real threat of terrorist attack is that governments and the nuclear industry are seeking to restrict public access to information about how the industry operates. On the grounds of nuclear safety and security, less and less information is being made public, making it harder to scrutinize the operations of the nuclear industry.

This restriction on public information, rather than guaranteeing there will be no terrorist attack on a nuclear facility will be sucessful (no such guarantee is possible) reduces the public (and critical organisations such as Greenpeace) ability to challenge the unsafe operation of nuclear plants. Instead of destroying civil liberties, government efforts to provide real security would be better served through nuclear phase-out's and investments in renewables and efficiency. A wind turbine or solar panel, unlike a nuclear facility, is not an attractive terrorist target!

Find out more:

Remember that renewables are the future!

Download our Nuclear Glossary.

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