A Nuclear-Armed ISIS Is Not That Far Fetched

A Nuclear-Armed ISIS Is Not That Far Fetched

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     So says Matthew Bunn, Co-Principal Investigator at the Project on Managing The Atom, at Harvard’s Belfer Center.  As I have written many times on this blog, the Islamic State, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Boko Haram, etc. have a burning desire to inflict catastrophic damage against the West, and in particular the United States.   As evidence, the below from an influential Saudi cleric:  “If Muslims cannot defeat the kafir (unbelievers) in a different way, it is permissible to use weapons of mass destruction, even if it kills all of them; and, wipes them and their descendants off the face of the Earth,”  Saudi jihadi cleric Nasir al-Fahd.  And I have previously written and posted articles regarding previous attempts by ISIS to either obtain illicit nuclear material, as well as the surveillance, and recruitment of nuclear plant personnel as was the case in Belgium.

     While some experts have downplayed the threat of a nuclear-armed ISIS, Patrick Tucker writes on the March 29, 2016 website of DefenseOne.com, that there is growing concern that terrorists could sabotage a nuclear power facility — potentially creating a Fukushima-type environment in central Europe.”  “But, to pull that off,” Mr. Bunn writes in a blog post obtained by DefenseOne, pre-publication, “militants, criminals, or terrorists would need a lot of specialized knowledge of the plants security features, and measures on how to defeat them.”

Dirty Bombs

     “Radiological materials are available in many locations where they would be much easier to steal — in hospitals, industrial sites, and more,” than at the SCK-CEN,” Mr. Bunn wrote.  The SCK-CEN nuclear research facility was surveilled by the two suicide [homicide] bombers in the Brussels terrorist attack.  These materials “can allow a terrorist to turn a regular size blast into a catastrophe that renders an entire area essentially poisonous, greatly increasing the costs of the clean-up, and the long-term danger to survivors, first responders, etc.”

     Mr. Bunn “points to a recent report from The Nuclear Threat Initiative, which notes that the material to make a [radiological] dirty bomb exists in ‘tens of thousands of radiological sources — located in more than 100 countries around the world.”

     Since 2013, and 2014, there were 325 incidents of radioactive materials reported being lost, stolen, or in some way unregulated or uncontrolled,” according to the report — which cites estimates from the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation.

     “The ultimate nightmare takes the form of a nuclear bomb composed of highly enriched uranium,” Mr. Tucker wrote.  Mr. Bunn nonetheless, added that “stealing highly enriched uranium from SCK-CEN would have been very difficult for the Brussels suicide [homicide] bombers.” But, he added, “The Times story largely missed — wrongly in my view — the idea that the HEU at SCK-CEN might have been the terrorists’ ultimate objective, saying that the idea that terrorists could get such material and make a crude nuclear bomb ‘seems far-fetched to many experts.”

    Citing a recent Belfer report, Mr. Bunn wrote “repeated government studies, in the United States and elsewhere, have concluded that is not that far-fetched.”  According to Nuclear Threat Initiative Report, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) highlighted  13 incidents of the “illegal possession, sale, or movement,” of highly uranium occurred between 1993-2014.  None of those involved material over a kilogram, not nearly enough to build a nuclear bomb,” he added.  But, “incidents involving attempts to sell or other radioactive material indicate that there is a perceived demand for such material.  The number of successful transactions is not known and therefore it is difficult to accurately characterize an “illicit nuclear market.”

     Mr. Tucker concludes with this warning, “it’s hard to tell how successful an assault on a facility like SCK-GEN would be if attempted by two lone gunmen, even if they had kidnapped an expert.  But, ISIS’s attraction to nuclear, and perhaps even a nuclear bomb, seems to be growing.”

     Mr. Tucker’s article follows a number of recent articles and warnings about the security of some 1,000 nuclear power plants and facilities worldwide, many of them with little to no protection.  The International Panel on Fissile Materials recently noted that enough plutonium and highly enriched uranium still exists to make 20,000 nuclear weapons of the magnitude that leveled Hiroshima in 1945.  More worrisome, London’s The Daily Mail Online reported this week that “since the mid-90s, almost 2,800 incidents of illicit trafficking, ‘unauthorized possession,’ or loss of nuclear materials has been recorded in an IAEA database.

     There is no doubt that the Islamicc State and/or, al Qaeda are actively seeking the expertise, and nuclear/radiological materials to make a crude, ‘poor-man’s’ nuclear weapon or weapon of mass destruction (WMD).  This isn’t a new goal; and, their desire to acquire such materials isn’t going away either.  V/R, RCP

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