Nuclear Weapons Terrorism and Countermeasures

The possibility that nuclear weapons may be used to attack parts of the world is one of the greatest threats that global security is facing. International Campaign to abolish Nuclear weapons, 2010, cited that the availability of active nuclear reactants evident in some countries; it further said that there are chances that the terrorist groups and individuals have access to these weapons. The access is from black market, theft of nuclear reserves and some countries are suspected to be having nuclear weapons in their store as war tools. Such countries include United States, Russia, and China.

From the end of Second World War in 1940s, until 1990s, the world is living under nuclear threats especially United States and Soviet Union who have over 97% of world’s nuclear weapons. On April 08, 2010, a story in CNN by Valerie Plame Wilson suggested that the urgent threat that the world is facing now is threats from nuclear weapons. There is a growing tendency that some countries or terrorists may use nuclear weapons to attack their opponents (Plame, 2010).

This paper discuses the threat of nuclear terrorism and the importance of an international effort in combating it.

Nuclear weapons usage

Nuclear weapon is the world largest mass destroyer weapon known; in the past, there have been incidences that nuclear weapons have been used. These incidences include attack of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan by the Americans on 6th August 1945. The effects of the atomic bomb are still felt in the county more than sixty years ago. Nuclear weapon uses energy to generate energy from within and between atomic nuclei. It involves a complex and expensive method where uranium or Plutonium is “enriched” to produce explosive force, a lot of heat and harmful elements that are used to make an attack. The cost of the process is expensive that only nation and large corporations have the resources to manufacture them (Richard, 2002).

Availability of radioactive material

Since 1930s, scientists were concerned on how they can develop nuclear weapon. A breakthrough was found when uranium was discovered to have potential in making of nuclear weapon. Hitler’s Germany was the first country to have made the weapons. The United States worked around the clock to counter the innovation of Germany, which Germans had kept a secret. They were successful in discovering that plutonium. On July 16, 1945, the country was able to make large amounts of plutonium for the weapon. This stage is referred to as atomic stage.

United States having a potential of using nuclear weapon wanted to end Second World War. President Harry Truman ordered an attack on Japan on August 6, 1945 a nuclear bomb was used to attack Hiroshima. The attack killed approximately 160,000 people. Three days later another attack was done at Nagasaki in the same country killing another 70,000 people (Burch, 2008).

The attack that made by united states triggered other countries to think of investing in nuclear attacks. In 1951, United States of America tasted its first hydrogen bomb, followed by the Soviet Union, which tested theirs in 1953.

In 1952, Britain declared its state in nuclear weapon and tested its first hydrogen bomb in 1958. France in 1960s detonated 30 bombs and declared that it had enough weapons in case of an attack. This period saw politicians concerned about chances of an attack as it became evident that major world economies had invented and manufacture nuclear weapons in a move seen to wait for an attack. However, none of the nations was willing to surrender its weapons. India and Pakistan tested their nuclear bombs in the same years, 1998. Of late, there have been tests from North Korea, which occurred in 2006, and another test from the same country in 2009. Israel has never tested its nuclear weapon but it is thought that it has some. From the above brief history, it is evident that there are some countries, which have nuclear weapons. They can thus use them to attack others or if these materials are availed to terrorist, they may use them to make attacks.

The exact number of nuclear weapons on earth is not known however, it is estimated that approximately 128 000 weapons have been produced since 1930s. Of these weapons, 55% is expected to have been produced by United States followed at a distance by Soviet Union, which is thought to account for 43%. Of the 128,000, approximately 12 500 are active while the rest are in a dismantlement state (International Campaign to abolish Nuclear weapons, 2010).

Non-state actors willing to use such weapons

Terrorists have the financial capability and the will to buy nuclear weapons threaten the world security state. There is black market where terrorists are likely to get access to these weapons. Russia has high nuclear weapons reserves but the measures that the county have taken to control their nuclear weapon are wanting. Other than access to the weapon themselves, there is also danger that the technology used in making these weapons may get on wrong hands and terrorists will be able to make their own missile weapons. The concerns are not whether they will get access but it leans more on when.

Potential worldwide targets terrorist may attack

There a number of areas, that is likely targets for nuclear terror attack. The targets are those places that are likely to cause the greatest danger or attain the objectives of the terrorists. These places include airports, seaports, vessels, big towns and cities, national buildings like parliaments, revenue collection offices among others. There is no one point that can be considered save form the attacks.

The physical and psychological effects of such an attack

A nuclear attack have both immediate and after attack dangers. Immediately after an attack, there are large volumes of heat produced. The heat causes injuries to people around the area. They may even cause immediate death. In Hiroshima for instance, there were 42,000–93,000 immediate deaths after the attack of 1945. In the first two weeks after an attack, people suffer from burns and wounds. From the third to fourth week, there is loss of hair, bleeding and anaemia among other health complications. After four months from the day of attack, it is expected to have blood abnormalities and sterility in both women and men exposed to radiation during attack. In later years, a case that is experienced in Japan, a victim exposed to the radiation has high chances of having cancers of thyroid, lungs and skin. Children in the country are sometime deformed as a result.

The psychological effects are in terms of the pain a touchier that an attack has on human beings. There is fear that another attack can occur again; this makes human beings psychologically troubled of their safety. The attack of United States in September 11, 2001, affected world countries. There was concerns that if United States has one of the world’s best security teams and yet it could be attacked, how about other countries whose security is not as good as that of unite states (Richard, 2002).

Current policies and international strategy that are in place to prevent nuclear terrorism

To approach fight against nuclear weapon attack, calls for International Corporation where countries that have nuclear weapons reactors can be assist other countries controlling the reactants from falling in the hands of terrorists. There are also some countries, which have no capacity to protect their economies from terror attacks. They are used as the transit points of such elements without their detention (Snow, 2006).

Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)

NPT is one of the international policies that have been enacted to prevent a nuclear weapon attack. All world nations are signatories to the treaty save for Cuba, India North Korea, Israel, and Pakistan. Under the treaty, five major countries with nuclear weapons are allowed to transport nuclear weapons to non-manufacturing states but are not allowed to show the state on how to make them. Non-nuclear states were also expected to work in line with IAEA and should be accountable of their use with the weapon.

Proliferation Security Initiative

The initiative was enacted in 2003, where it was signed by eleven countries with the aim of combating any attempt to a nuclear attack. Currently the initiative has over 80 members countries the aim of the treaty is to compel countries with nuclear weapons to be responsible of their own reserves and ensure that at no one point these weapons get access to non state players.

The international laws enacted in the initiative allow operations to be conducted in a country that is likely to be manufacturing or developing nuclear plant. For example, an operation blocked Iran from nuclear weapon manufacturing (Bernstein, 2008).

G–8 “Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction”

The agreement was developed in 2002 in Kananaskis, Canada, where the main agenda was to raise money and assist nuclear countries more precisely they were targeting to raise $20 billion by 2012 to support Russia in control of their weapons to fall in the hands of non-state partisans. Thirteen European and Asian nation joined in 2004 with the aim of raising the amount. The United States of America had pledged to cover half of the amount required.

Other than raising the amount to assist Russia, the partnership had the following objectives:

  • Control any Chemical weapons destruction through corporation
  • Nuclear submarine dismantlement
  • Develop measures that ensured physical protection of nuclear weapons and reactants
  • It also aimed at controlling fissile material disposition and
  • Offering decent employment to nuclear weapon scientists

The above objectives are supported by G8 countries and they combine forces if there is a non-state who seems to be developing nuclear weapon (Bernstein, 2008).

UNSC (United Nations Security Council Resolution) 1540

The resolution offers a framework of operation, which all states in the world are expected to follow in their efforts to curb any nuclear terror attack. It aims at reducing chances of proliferation of WMD. All United Nations acquired the agreement in April 2004, and an agreement was made that will be repellence to any non-state country that aim at developing nuclear weapons. In 2006, Resolution 1673 was adopted to oversee the implementation of UNSC 2008, all member countries were supposed to develop and present the implementation that they had attained at the time. 140 countries tabled their implementation plan.

(GNEP) Global Nuclear Energy Partnership

The partnership was developed in February 2006; the partnership aims at looking into modern ways that can be a threat to the world nuclear weapons fight. They look into areas like the effect that technology is likely to have on campaigns against proliferation of nuclear weapons. It is also concern about the trend in world countries, which are willing to develop nuclear weapons and advice relevant bodies (Bernstein, 2008).

Conclusion and recommendations

World nations have recognised the need for collaboration in the fight against nuclear weapons. The danger that is facing the world is that some countries, which are thought to have the weapons, yet they do not declare. The intention of such countries is not know. Some countries compliance rate is also questionable, despite having ratified some of these acts, nobody can be sure that they are implementing them to the dot. There is also the challenge of non-state groups and individuals getting access to the weapons. Though some measures have been taken to curb such moves, there have been leakages through theft of weapons, and technology transfers to terror groups on how the weapons are made.


Bernstein,P. (2008). International Partnerships to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction. Washington: National Defence University Press.

Burch, T.(2008). Non-State Actors in the Nuclear Black Market: Proposing an International Legal Framework for Preventing Nuclear Expertise Proliferation & Nuclear Smuggling by Non-State Actors. Web.

International Campaign to abolish Nuclear weapons. (2010). A brief history of nuclear weapons. Web.

Plame, V. (2010, April 08). Nuclear terrorism is most urgent threat. Web.

Richard, B. (2002). Nuclear terrorism. New York: Nova Publishers.

Snow, M. (2006). Cases in International Relations, Portraits of the Future, 2nd Edition. New York: Pearson Longman.