ATbar Nuclear Terror: The Essentials, Threats, Effects and Resilience
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Nuclear Terror: The Essentials, Threats, Effects and Resilience

27/07/2016 | by Multiple Authors  

The Ragonis Foundation Scholarship at The International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) and the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC), promotes research in counter-terrorism and homeland security among IDC Students and IDF Soldiers and officers.

This paper of Prof. Phineas Dickstein and Mrs. Sarah Vanunu was ranked by the Decision Committee at the 2nd honorable place in the Eyal Ragonis Memorial Competition for 2016-2017.


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Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) means of destruction used to be called "Non-conventional" and were rarely used in the last decades following World War II[1] . In the last few years, with ISIS activities in Iraq and Syria, the world has witnessed frequent usage of chemical gas by both the Syrian army and their counterparts, along with brutal means of mass executions. It is evident now that the concept of "Non-conventional weapons" is no longer entirely valid, and that the world has crossed all legal and moral thresholds regarding the use of CBRN and any "non-conventional" means. Terrorist groups seek to engage any means that may serve their goals. Our research concentrates on Nuclear and Radiation terrorism.

Islamic terrorist groups are motivated by religious rulings – “Fatwas” – that provide them with the justification and legitimacy for their deeds. In chapter 2 we cite several fatwas that provide the impetus for the use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Nuclear terrorism can manifest itself in several forms: nuclear explosion, release of radio-active radiation and dispersion of radioactive materials. In chapter 3 we survey the details of all these forms and conduct a quantitative assessment to show that the most probable form is the dispersion of nuclear materials through a Radiological Dispersion Device (RDD), usually involving the detonation of explosives augmented with radioactive materials, known also as a "dirty bomb".

The detonation of a dirty bomb may have many severe implications. Alongside with the bomb casualties, it may have medical, economical and socio-psychological effects. Chapter 4 deals with the socio-psychological effects related to a dirty bomb. An incident in the city of Goiania, Brazil, in which radioactive material was unintentionally spread in the city is referred to as a test case for the socio-psychological impacts of a dirty bomb.

Since the dirty-bomb is considered a real threat, chapter 5 deals with ways to communicate the risk to the public and extends its scope to deal with ways to build resilience to the RDD and its possible consequences. Resilience is treated in this chapter in the broad sense that includes both the activities carried out so as to prevent terrorists from detonating a dirty bomb, and the preparedness to deal with its medical, economical, sociological and psychological impact in both the short term and long term effects.

The nuclear terror threat has been recognized as the global main threat by world leaders including President Obama, Prime Minister Merkel of Germany, the Secretary General of the United Nations and many others. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) affiliated with the United Nations, which used to lead the global efforts on Nuclear Safety, took upon itself the same role regarding Nuclear Security as of 2002. Chapter 6 provides a detailed description of the global anti nuclear terror activities conducted by the IAEA, including a survey of all the guidelines published by the organization dealing with the many different aspects regarding nuclear terrorism. The Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT) is also described in this chapter, as well as a mention of the legal issues related to anti-terrorism activities.

Chapter 7 provides a list of very recent global incidents and trafficking of nuclear materials that can be used for nuclear terrorism acts. In the framework of this research, we conducted a survey of open sources related to the topic of incidents and trafficking of nuclear materials in the last three years. We refrained from dealing with nuclear reported issues related to states, i.e. Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, North-Korea and Syria. This survey is by no means a complete account of these incidents, yet, it provides the assurance that the field of nuclear materials theft and trafficking is alive and dynamic.

In chapter 8 we summarize the main findings of this work and draw several conclusions and recommendations so as to decrease the probability of a nuclear terror act on the one hand, and building resilience to such an act on the other hand. One of the recommendations is to carefully follow the guides published by IAEA, yet we point out several flaws in the IAEA that need to be taken care of given the geopolitical circumstances in the region.

We recognize that the readers of this document may have no scientific background, yet they are interested in the issue of nuclear terrorism. For those readers we wrote an original annex, which provides the very elementary basics of nuclear radiation and nuclear phenomena and the biological effects of the nuclear radiation.



[1]  Recall Egypt's use of gas in its fight in Yemen, in the 1960's, Saddam Hussein's gas attack on Kurdish villages in northern Iraq in the 1990's, and several occasions of chemical and biological terrorist acts conducted by terrorist groups, for example Aun-Shinrikyo in Japan and Rajneeshe in Portland, Oregon (USA).


Prof. Phineas Dickstein was a senior research scientist with the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission for more than twenty years. He has also been an adjunct Professor at the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, where he has been teaching graduate courses and supervised twenty two theses towards M.Sc and Ph.D in Engineering. Apart from his being a Doctor of Engineering, he holds a B.A in History and a M.A in Government from the Rafael Reckanati International School at the Interdisciplinary Center at Herzliya. He has published more than two-hundred and fifty scientific papers and reports and several papers on history. Phineas is currently a research fellow at ICT and a Scientific Consultant to R&D companies.

Mrs. Sarah Vanunu, originally from Sydney, Australia, moved to Israel in 2005. Sarah has more than 10 years’ experience in PR strategy and global media communications programs. She has worked for commercial and non-profit, as well as academic organizations and for Israel-Diaspora campaigns. She has spoken at major public events and she is a long-time volunteer for TELFED and ZFA - the Zionist Federation of Australia. Sarah received her Master’s in Diplomacy, Strategy & Conflict Studies from the Raphael Recanati International School at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel. Sarah holds a BA degree with 1st class Honors in Media and Communications from the University of New South Wales in Australia. Sarah is currently Director of Media Relations for a U.S. online University. Previously she was Deputy Editor and major contributing writer of Time Out Israel and Director of Marketing and Communications at Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI). Sarah was the co-founder of the “Lapid” coalition for high school age programs in Israel, initiating, establishing and mobilizing a fast-growing, international non-profit organization in Israel and eventually leading Lapid as its Director of Communications. She is now a Board Member of Lapid. Sarah has published articles in The Times of Israel, Haaretz, Australian Jewish News, and Kveller, among others.


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