Muslim countries with nukes aren't really a new thing. Pakistan, for instance, has nukes, and has been perhaps the most helpful of all Muslim nations in helping the rest of the world find those who kill innocents in the name of Allah.
U.S. drones have been bombing the heck out of the Pakistan countryside, targetting suspected Al Qaeda and supporters; however, instead of stamping out support for Al Qaeda, they're succeeding in inciting terror across Pakistan, as drones have killed several civilians, including first responders and even people who show up at funerals.
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We can assume that this hate is also shared by several people in government -- people who would be willing to deal with Iran; and that could mean selling nuclear weapons.
Remember, Pakistan has a nuclear arsenal.
Iran, we can guess, would do anything to get their hands on it.
1.) If terror-supporting nations like Iran could steal or buy a bomb from anywhere, it would surely be Russia; the complete collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990 created an economic vacuum that continues to this day. Rumors abound of nuclear weapons and uranium making it to the black market, trafficked and sold by Russian mobsters out to make a buck.
2) A starving, brilliant nuclear scientist may be tempted to sell his or her secrets to the highest bidder.
3.) Even if Iran and terrorist groups did buy secrets to build nuclear weaopns, there would almost certainly have to be a battery of nuclear testing done before terrorists were certain they have the kind of nuke we usually think of -- and a nuclear blast is a damn hard thing to conceal, especially these days.
4.) Even if they somehow get the secrets to the Bomb, most lack the means to deliver it to anyplace that could do a deal of damage. Having the baddest nuke in the world ain't gonna matter if it just sits in the middle of Afghanistan -- it has to be a payload on a missile of some kind to be effective. And, with the governments around the world watching the planes, and the higher-ups throughout the Middle East being 'moderates' (whatever that means), even in Iran, this last option doesn't appear to be a very realistic one.
If a terrorist can't even light a pair of explosive shoes on a plane these days without being stopped, I doubt they can sneak a nuke on board, take control of the plane, and slam it somewhere. Possible, but not likely.
A.) The use of a dirty bomb -- a small, relatively normal explosive that uses a radioactive agent to also release radioactivity at detonation, enough to infect a whole city block. Certainly not a 'nuke' in the traditional sense, but one that can do a great deal of damage to people nonetheless.
USA Today's Dan Vergano wrote a story in Nov 2001 detailing the worries that surfaced at a weeklong meeting of the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), hosted in Vienna at the end of October that year. Held a mere month and a half after the attacks on New York and Washington, the IAEA devoted its time to discussing ways to combat nuclear terrorism in the post-Sept. 11 world.
"[The IAEA] warned ... that terrorists may steal radioactive medical or industrial waste materials to build 'dirty bombs' aimed at subways, train stations and other public places," Vergano wrote. "Exploded with dynamite, a dirty bomb might kill hundreds through radiation poisoning and could contaminate large areas and stoke nuclear fears."
Vergano reported that about 18 pounds of stolen plutonium would be needed to craft a bomb. He's right in recognizing the matter's importance, since nuclear materials appear to be stolen rather often. Since 1993, the IAEA has confirmed 376 cases of illicit sales of stolen radioactive materials.
B.) An attack on a nuclear power plant, nuclear facility, or vehicle carrying radioactive material. This could be an interesting scenario; in doing a story on airline security, I discovered that the privately-owned security companies protecting most nuke plants now are the same ones who were thrown out of the airline industry after 9/11 -- Argenbright, the same boys who messed up so badly that day at the Boston airport, now handles security at most nuke plants.
In fact a secret, government-sponsored test on nuke plants' security conducted a few months after 9/11 found that the guards are at least quite consistent. A number of government spooks were given orders to try out the guards at these plants, by getting firmly inside the nuke plants without being stopped.
A great number succeeded.
"The security guards at half the nuclear power plants in the United States have failed to repel mock terrorist attacks against safety systems designed to prevent a reactor meltdown. These are so-called "force-on-force" exercises supervised by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The NRC refuses to take enforcement action in response to the failures, and is in the process of weakening the rules of the game in response to industry complaints. Sabotage of nuclear power plants may be the greatest domestic vulnerability in the United States today. This is the time to strengthen, not weaken, nuclear regulation." Paul Leventhal, Commencement Address Franklin & Marshall College 2001
Sabotage of nuclear power plants may be the greatest domestic vulnerability in the United States today. This is the time to strengthen, not weaken, nuclear regulation."
Paul Leventhal, Commencement Address Franklin & Marshall College 2001
And, since a nuclear plant harnesses 1,000 times the radiation released by the average nuclear warhead, it is the Big Worry. One successful attack could create 100,000 deaths and the loss on untold billions in contaminated areas, buildings and equipment, according to some experts.
Imagine, for example, if terrorists were able to strike Three Mile Island (a nuclear power plant) and cause a nuclear meltdown. Three Mile Island, for those of you who remember, created quite a stir in 1979, when it experienced a partial nuclear meltdown. A full meltdown would have been a disaster.
In any case, the 'dirty bomb' and the blowing-up-of-a-nuke-plant scenario seem like the most realistic possibilities of a nuclear terrorist strike. Both use the simple release of radioactivity as a 'weapon', rather than anything approaching a nuclear explosion.
Both would also be far cheaper, and far more in line with traditional Muslim terrorist methods.