Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 31, 2007

How Costly is a Nuc in a City?

Filed under: Organizational Issues,Radiological & Nuclear Threats — by Jonah Czerwinski on May 31, 2007

As we debate the Department of Homeland Security’s Securing the Cities Initiative, its worth considering the actual impact of a nuclear weapon detonated in a densely populated urban environment.  Defense Canada’s R&D arm partnered with Battelle to produce a schematic illustrating a “preliminary analysis on the economic impact of a nuclear weapon event in Vancouver.” 

The city of Vancouver has a population (578,041) about the size of Washington, DC (581,530).  The project considers the impact of a 0.7 kiloton bomb, a 13kT bomb, and a 100kT bomb.  The presentation identifies five different categories of cost:

1.      Loss of productivity of earnings forgone

2.      Indirect effects or multiplier

3.      Loss and damage to building structures

4.      Decontamination

5.      Evacuation 

Perhaps the costliest aspect would be the response to a nuclear detonation in a North American city.  One of the more important developments underway right now within the counter nuclear threat community invests in both the pre-event and post-event challenges.  The creation of a more unified forensics capability to identify, characterize, and source nuclear material – hopefully pre-detonation – is making progress. 

The National Technical Nuclear Forensics Center is being developed under the guidance of the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office at DHS.  The interagency Center is charged with serving as “a national capability developer for pre-event rad/nuc materials forensics” and with providing “end-to-end planning, enhancement, and integration” of nuclear forensics capabilities.  Three areas comprise its mission:

·        Signatures development

·        Analysis

·        Capabilities enhancement 

With about $17 million in the FY08 budget request, this is a modest start, but an important one. 

The original impetus behind creating the DNDO rested on the understanding that the smuggled nuclear threat is different from other WMD threats in several ways.  One principle way is the dispersed ownership of the mission across the Executive branch.  A uniquely interagency approach is critical.  The NTNFC reflects this as a microcosm.  Participating agencies in the forensics center include DHS, FBI, and the Departments of Energy and Defense. 

DHS leads the pre-event interdiction mission, DOD, the post-detonation part, DOE has pre-det “nuclear device technical nuclear forensics”, FBI is in charge of investigations and analysis.  One big happy family.  Let’s hope this whole Center is merely an academic exercise, but should forensics – or attribution – become necessary, this unified approach makes sense.

Update: I am traveling until Monday, June 4, without access to the site.

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5 Comments »

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May 31, 2007 @ 10:34 am

Need to Know – 05/31/2008…

Need to Know is a short roundup of key stories that shouldn’t be missed on your cruise through the blogosphere. The number of links in the roundup may vary but if you find it here you can trust that it’s must-read material.
Homeland Securit…

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May 31, 2007 @ 10:36 am

[...] Homeland Security Watch | The financial fallout from a Terrorist nuke As we debate the Department of Homeland Security’s proposed Securing the Cities Initiative, its worth considering the actual impact of a nuclear weapon detonated in a densely populated urban environment. Defense Canada’s R&D arm partnered with Battelle to produce a schematic illustrating a “preliminary analysis on the economic impact of a nuclear weapon event in Vancouver.” [...]

Comment by J.

June 1, 2007 @ 1:25 pm

I’m trying to figure out if your post is using official govt language or if this is your own opinion. Are we honestly that worried about an actual nuclear device in the 10-100 kT range instead of just addressing dirty bombs? Are we honestly serious about setting up mobile and fixed site rad detectors to interdict movements of “terrorist nukes” within the United States? Pre-incident forensics?? How exactly does that work – DHS teams working with the FBI when the hit goes down on the al Qaeda sleeper cell holding the nuke in Miami?

This is insanity. Unless you want to top this “important initiative” with the government’s asteroid-interdiction program, featuring electro-gun launch sites around the equator, I can’t fathom why anyone would support this program – except the vice president of the United States.

Comment by Jonah Czerwinski

June 4, 2007 @ 2:14 pm

>>I’m trying to figure out if your post is using official govt language or if this is your own opinion.

The quotes about the Vancouver study are from the linked document by Battelle and Defense Canada. The quotes about the NTNFC are from government docs given to me that I do not have electronically, hence no link. Apologies for that. Everything else that is not within quotation marks is my own perspective.

>> Are we honestly that worried about an actual nuclear device in the 10-100 kT range instead of just addressing dirty bombs?

According to the National Planning Scenarios we are.

>> Pre-incident forensics?? How exactly does that work – DHS teams working with the FBI when the hit goes down on the al Qaeda sleeper cell holding the nuke in Miami?

That’s possible. Pre-incident forensics would mean determining the origin and type of material found in a nuclear or “dirty” bomb apprehended prior to detonation. Think of the kind of work that would have to be done if material was found by NATO’s Operation Active Endeavor or the Proliferation Security Initiative.

>> This is insanity.

Hoping that our woefully underfunded programs to secure all at-risk source material will be 100% successful might actually be the insane approach. Besides, note my comment that a dangerous dimension to a nuclear incident on the homeland would be the government response. I’m worried, too, that evidence isn’t a valued asset these days. I can only hope that should a WMD attack occur that we can make the best possible case for proving where it came from rather than use the incident as pretense for invading countries that might not have any connection to the attack.

BTW, I greatly appreciate Armchair Generalist. Great blog.

Comment by J.

June 11, 2007 @ 8:55 am

Thanks for the clarifications (and the note on the blog). I have little to no respect for the “National Planning Scenarios” – while they are “official”, to the educated eye they are blatently unrealistic and have no solid foundation in today’s threat environment. To have 11 of the 15 scenarios on chem-bio (I believe this is right), and of the remaining four, only one is a natural disaster, speaks to the inability of DHS leadership to appreciate what support the state and local officials really need from the federal govt (as seen in the Katrina response).

I agree that some degree of preparation, planning and response for a nuclear terrorist event is required, however, planning a response to a city-busting nuke is just so far from reality as to be useless. IF a 10 kT or larger nuke takes out a city, the response will take decades and involve every agency in the government. And I promise you, if that day ever comes, the first thing they will do is throw out all the existing plans that they made for this event.

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