Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 5, 2012

Increased chances of Iranian conflict does not equal increased radiation threat

Filed under: International HLS,Radiological & Nuclear Threats,Risk Assessment — by Arnold Bogis on March 5, 2012

Normally I would welcome any reason to extol the virtues of brushing up on your nuclear and radiological-related preparedness planning. However, I strangely find myself wanting to push back on some nuclear-alarmism that I’ve come across lately from usually professional and restrained quarters.

To be clear before I begin: I believe nuclear terrorism has been and remains a real threat; that a dirty bomb is a question of when and not if; and that the two are entirely different animals that look similar in the same manner that one’s house cat may occasionally remind you of a lion in the wild…but not really.

The meme I suspect is emerging is that heightened tensions in the Middle East, in particular the increased threat of conflict with Iran over it’s nuclear program, is increasing the chances that the U.S. will either be the victim of a nuclear or radiological attack or that we may be involved in treating radiation-related casualties originating from hostilities in the Middle East. The mistaken perceptions involve current Iranian capabilities and the results of any possible attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, particularly by Israeli forces.

First capabilities: no evidence has been made public that Iran has enriched uranium beyond 20%.  While that gets them a lot closer to having the material for nuclear weapons (it is a strange fact, but enriching uranium up to 20% is more difficult than taking it from 20% to 90% and above, which is generally considered weapons grade; as Harvard’s Graham Allison has put it: “In effect, having uranium enriched at 20 percent takes Iran 90 yards along the football field to bomb-grade material.”), it does not give them a nuclear capability at this moment.  Barring work at a secret enrichment facility, this means that Iran does not have a nuclear weapon to use (whether directly or through allied terrorist groups) against any potential attacker.

Yes, this could change in the future through any number of potential scenarios.  Yes, there are serious concerns for U.S. national security if Iran was to become a nuclear state.  The most likely of these would not involve Iran directly attacking the U.S with a nuclear weapon.  Many others have sunk their teeth into this topic and debated various outcomes.

A dirty bomb could be a possibility, but in taking stock of that particular threat the pieces don’t point toward any special Iranian capability. Neither the low-enriched or high-enriched uranium that Iran is producing, or any of the stages of pre-enriched material, would make particularly effective dirty bomb material.  Uranium is not highly radioactive, in fact one can handle highly enriched uranium with nothing more than a simple gloved hand. In other words, the Iranian nuclear program does not add to their capability to carry out or assist others in carrying out a dirty bomb attack.

An Israeli or U.S. attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities could potentially embolden, radicalize, or otherwise incentivize terrorists to carry out a dirty bomb attack.  One can imagine a desire to carry out some sort of event involving radiation in retaliation.  Yet the particulars of Iran’s nuclear program do not affect the odds of this occurring, nor would the products be particularly helpful.

If homeland security officials at all levels want to prevent a dirty bomb attack, in addition to planning and exercising to respond and recover from any such incident (deterrence through denial of goals), they can take stock of the radioactive sources in their own jurisdictions and connect with the owners and licensees about security and safety. Every big city has potential dirty bomb ingredients without the necessity of terrorists attempting to smuggle in Iranian radioactive sources.

The second layer of concern seems to center on the possibility that hostilities between Iran and Israel, and maybe the U.S., would involve populations being exposed to high levels of radioactivity.  However, at this point in Iran’s nuclear development that is also unlikely.

Despite the bluster out of some corners, Israel is not going to use nuclear weapons it does not officially acknowledge having to destroy a nascent nuclear capability the goal of which is contested by various world powers.  Nuclear weapons are political weapons that are best used to deter nuclear attack and invasion.  It is often pointed out that a reason Iran might want to either develop a breakout capability or the weapons themselves is that they witnessed what happened to Iraq and Libya and what has not happened to North Korea.

An Israeli nuclear strike on Iran without direct nuclear provocation would likely result in their achieving North Korean-like pariah status.  Instead, if they decided it was in their national security interest to strike the Iranian nuclear program it would involve conventional weapons.  These bombs may cause dispersion of nuclear material, but as I mentioned before the uranium involved would not be highly radioactive and the effects would be more toxic and less radioactive.

Would there be detectable raised levels of radiation in the surrounding areas  following such an attack?  Likely. Are we talking about an Iranian Fukushima?  Probably not.

Israel could decide to bomb the nuclear reactor at Bushehr, but this would do little to stop any weapons program as light water power reactors are poorly suited for the production of plutonium for bombs and this particular one is under stringent IAEA safeguards.  In addition, it would earn the ire of potentially sympathetic Gulf nations who may bear the brunt of the radiation released.

Following any strike by Israel on its nuclear program, Iran is judged likely to attack Israel with missiles.  Whether launched from Iranian territory or by allied groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, some of these weapons may be targeted at the Israeli nuclear reactor at Dimona.  It is possible that the reactor would sustain enough damage to release radiation, but these facilities are not soft nor large targets.  The relatively unsophisticated missiles involved would have to be lucky in both hitting the target and achieving enough damage to release any radiation.  Only in the worst case might there be a call to evacuate any casualties to the United States due to radiation injury.

So to end this already too long foray into predicting the results of events that may never occur, let me just reiterate:

  • homeland security officials at all levels should worry about the security of radioactive sources within their jurisidcitions and make sure that they are prepared to respond and recover from any dirty bomb attack;
  • yes Dorothy, a nuclear terrorist attack is possible, if not likely, and should be regarded as a national catastrophic event planned for on a regional basis including non-traditional partners (in FEMA-speak this is a MOM event requiring a WOC response);
  • in the short-to-medium term, events regarding Iran’s nuclear program will not directly impact the risks of a radiological or nuclear attack upon the U.S.
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2 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 5, 2012 @ 8:11 am

Development of nuclear power was the result in part of the “guilt” of the Atomic Scientists that built the first A-Bomb and were hoping that they had done more than just hurry the end of the world. What fascinates me is that even today, except for the USA, where a multitude of books exist, many of high quality, of how the USA developed first the A-Bomb and then the nuclear weapons of today. But there is no country by country analysis of how nuclear weapons proliferated or even exactly an issued formal statement by the USA or the UN as to what nation-states hold nuclear weapons today, or have the capability to build them in short order. Brazil for example has announced that it wants to have nuclear weapons capability. In short proliferation has occurred largely on the watch of the President’s since FDR. Whether this weapons are used remains an unknown but most of the possessors have some concept of how they would employ them. In fact they have NO military usage. So their employment and first use by any nation-state or sub-state actor should be formally labeled a terrorist act and worthy of the appropriate triggers by all nation-states against that terrorist act.

Perhaps that would be real deterrence. And the President of the USA and all candidates for that office should have published a position on why they believe first use of nuclear weapons, unless renounced, is either a sustainable political or moral position.

This whole Iranian worry and possible Israeli response almost never has a discussion ending that any nation-state employing first use of nuclear weapons will be a pariah state for the rest of world history assuming it survives its own first use.

Like the ostrich the world has largely buried its head in the sand over nuclear weapons.

Comment by The Doomsayer

March 6, 2012 @ 7:11 am

….and while I predict that it will be a German intervention in the Iranian scenario unfolding and led by these “Brutes of Tehran” and supported by the “KGB Putinites” as I refer to these thugs and nothing more…

I am representing the owner of the most substantial source of rare heavy earth metals which the Chinese are pursuing wth heightened interest and a check already written for $1.3+billion to acquire this vast souce of rare earth metals, while the owner of these precious assets prefers that such do not fall into the grasp and control of China….and has given me one month a (four weeks only) to not only wake up Sleepy Hollow (the beltweay bandits) and nurture their interest in the cashe offered by thgis one of a kind vast reserve or China will in fact be in the startegic position of controlling some of the most precious in more than substantial quantity…and as a natural born citizen and my Love for our besieged Republic by the same “beltway bandits” led by this “Goldman Sachs” administration I must visit and secure the $1.3 billion check or China wins….it is my fear, just as it in our lack of underatanding and commitment to be prepared for any cyber, dirty bomb or otherwise..We will fail to open our – bankrupted check book and China will step in as it has in so many other instances and stockpile precious materials which not only I, but the most enlightended and astute Geologistsa and Scientists among us, see as a national security issue.

….and like much of what we constantly portray in failed insight, vision to the future…We are besieged by those who seek to devalue our beloved Republic by entending our debt to heights which will only lead to our demise to the core of this once great Republic and China will step forward as it has done and continued to place emphasis on science and engineering as we see their graduates pour out of academic institutions even here aty MIT and understand teh value of carbon nano tube and – graphene – technology when we see our own Presidential candidates as[piring to the most prestigious position and see Russia from their porch and tell us that Paul revere was seen in Concord – yes, in New Hampshire, not here in Lexington and Concord and by the way, how many of you have visited Lexington and Concord w/your children…certainly not Barry Obama’s wife with their two daughters, no, Sapin is on their itinery..

Listen, our obvious failed lack in any real focus and commitment to ‘ol Glory and the valued and much appfeciated values set forth in our esteemed Constitution and China will continue to promote and establish an ever widening and imposing government unless these attention deficit Washington politicians are no longer enabled by We the People who are at fault as We are enabling such devisive policies and lsuting for power withing the beltway and it is these idiots for the most part so gridlocked by placing themselves first before ol ‘Glory that the self-sufficient policies being sucessfully pursued by the leaders in China, educated scientists and engineers themselves, some renowned in theior respective professional fields of interest…will lead the world as We in the west wallow in its own woes very much inherent in long and dysfunctional religious quests and long standing generational stone walls which our State Department has no understanding of these respective differing cultures and sects who wonder why we are in thweir midst, truly oblivious to the differences these various culture are very much part of Life and We will continue to fail in our froeign policy for it is not our place to be on foreign soil unless a security issue which Congress can possibly grasp and maybe stand together and endorse….

In the next two weeks, I will overcome the challenges TSA seems to enjoy when greeting me at the airport departure gate w/my proudly handing my US Passport to for identification and after the same absurd and intentional harassment every time it seems I want to board an aircraft as a natural born and proud American who like so many of us ready to give our give Life for our beloved Judeo-Christian nation, a country once a “Beacon of Hope” to so many oppressed in far distant shore willimg to adhere to our immigration requirements and become after much effort, proud and – legal – Americans….today, we here on “Main Street USA” see only local and fellow Americans suffering ever so as food costs, rental and housing costs, gasoline at ever increasing proces escalating and this “charade” by the – inept – in the beltway which I must strive to present the inhernet value of opening the – bankrupted – checking account and writing a check for $1.3 billion to enable We the People not to allow the well versed and quite astute Chinese science and engineering Beijing leadership to own these vast resources in rare earth metals…I have my task before me to try my best to enlighten and wake up thsoe in sleepy hollow who have no sense of the futuer and the eventual destiny of our great nation and our most charitable people here on “Main Street USA’ who deserve far more than a Chicago community organizer and nothing more and a former Governor of Massachusetts who has flipflopped his way from the State of Massachusetts where I have been born and raised and have seen first hand how we here on “Main Street USA” are so adversely affected by the same ineptness, the same limited vision, the same and bothersome self-serving ways of those We have “entrusted” by our precious vote only to see another Massachusetts politician ddeink the magical waters at the State House and dream of Washington, when at a juncture in the most cruical time in our history, We shout from our pews and ask, “Where is Winston Churchill” ?? for whether it is four more contetsed years w/this Chicago community organizer and his “Goldman Sachs” administration or “Mitt the Unfit” as We call him here on “Main Street USA” who will I turn to when in the beltway in the next two weeks seeking to find someone to udnerstand the sensitivity, the national security inherent in my presentation in hand by the owner and seller who begs me to sell these precious heavy rare earth metals, the most extensive one stop resource anywhere on earth and again, I will make my most ardent effort to knock on the doors of the gridlocked and shameful ways of Washington, not professing term limits and recall initiatives…but seeking a check for the $1.3 billion+ required in federal reserve notes to hopefully secure these assets for our coffer and not China who has hoareded ever such asset like squirrals preparing for the calamity which seems certain to befall the unprepared and those who profess to be visionaries w/so many failed accomplishments when in office depicting the empty rhetoric we here in the ever long and far too costly political competitions where we here on “Main Street USA” only see the extent of “Goldman Sachs’” involvment in the present WH and we see here on “Main Street USA” the void in campaign promises by each party while chinese and Russian submarines and even the Germans boast of their moderized arsenal and we have ships whose seams are ready to take on water and aircraft aging so rapidly that if anyone in “sleepy hollow” can wake up when I knock on the doors in the next two weeks and present vast reserves of rare earth metals to support our basic needs to continue our strategic position…well, with pessimism in hand, yet American spirit and a sense of great pride for those who We have followed, As a proud fellow Amwerican with bvast reserve and proposal of such in hand…I will let you know shortly if I could find anyone who can overcome their own self-serving inetnt and understand the importance of writing the $1.3 billion check to the pwner of these rare earth assets who, while not an American, certainly a proud ally whose door is nearly blocked by enlightened Chinese w/astute knowledge and vision for the future who understand why they must own this vast reserve of rare heavy metals….

We are so unprepared as a nation. We are so inept in our ways. The arrogance of the elistis led by the WH which I refer to it policies as acts of treason against our Blessed ‘ol Glory and our invaluable Constitution with Barry Obama and “smug-smiled Pelosi et al” so inetnt on insulting us that serious issues of an ever burdensome government imposing itself on even a local issue and suggesting to We the People who love and Respect this nation ever so, willing to give our Life to sustain our values set for in this Judeo-Christian nation….and We see — beer summits — proposed on the WH lawn as some way to mend what is so wromng with this elitist and self-imposing government from local to state to the WH and to both sides of the Congressional aisle where we see abuse of fellow citizen and still no National Energy Policy after eight sitting Presidents, numerous Congressional hearings and Goldman Sachs and corporate greed eroding our values as the besieged beltway are kidnapped by the self-serving!

Whether increased radiation threat or the terrorist use of a nuclear weapon…the unpreparedness and isorganization We see among respective government agencies from local, to state to federal and whether local state legislatures and state constitutions or our foremost US Constitution which We are obligated as citizen to stand forthright to protect…and whether my trip to Washington in these next two weeks will awaken – sleepy hollow – to the the value of these rare earth metals offered to us vs China….those of us here on “Main Street USA” have less and less confidence that We shall overcome the uncertainties brought forth by such failings and whether increased radition threat or cyber attack or an ever imposing government w/no one to thwart the threat we see as ‘ol Glory is besieged by superpacs and millions and millions in the coffers of Barry and Mitt, both so unqualified to take on the 21st century and beyond….

God Bless America and yes, Israel, a deserving People given covenant by the Lord should be master of their own destiny and We have little doubt Israel whether surrounded by those seeking its demise will fail for its leaders are open eyed and very enlightened and take history very seriously when most asked here on “Main Street USA” we see Presidential hopefuls from these same parties having little knowledge and continue their empty rhetoric just as Barry Obama et al (goldman Sachs) have led us to such ever burdensome debt!

Where is Winston Chruchill? Oh, that’s right, his bust in the WH has been replaced by Martin Luther King, a man to be applauded in his work on behalf of civil rights, yet not the man We all need in facing such scary economic and political uncertainties and the real radiation threat and cyber attack quite possible….

Where is Winston Churchill? Certainly not “Mitt the Unfit” and folks as China stockpiles the precious commodities and food items for a hundred years or more, We are besieged by superpacs and politicians who have no science or engineering degrees and have little repect for the oath of office as their inside trading and more has shown us!

See you in Washington shortly with a most valuable propoisal to the “beltway bandits” in hand…I just wonder whether sleepy hollow will awake!

Christopher Tingus
“Main Street USA”
PO Box 1612
Harwich (Cape Cod), MA 02645 USA
chris.tingus@gmail.com

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