The Council on Foreign Relations has issued a new report by Charles D. Ferguson entitled “Preventing Catastrophic Nuclear Terrorism.” The report provides a concise but fact-filled survey of the current state of nuclear prevention activities, and offers a cogent vulnerability assessment that compares the different ways in which a terrorist group might acquire a nuclear capability. Ferguson argues that the greatest vulnerability comes not from the theft of a weapon, but from the manufacture of a crude device using stolen or illicitly-acquired HEU or plutonium. He makes a strong case for strengthening key non-proliferation programs such as the “Megatons to Megawatts” HEU conversion program.
My only real critique of the report is that it gives short shrift to the nuclear detection side of the problem. Ferguson acknowledges that “developing and deploying radiation detection technology” is a part of a “multilayered defense strategy,” but then dismisses the value of these efforts without going into detail. These nuclear and radiological detection efforts certainly are problematic today, but I think they’re worth a more detailed consideration (looking at the potential for advances in detection technology) than they are given in this report.
Overall though, a very useful study on what is probably the greatest long-run threat to our national security.