The International Atomic Energy Agency’s safeguards system is seriously flawed and under-resourced. Recently-retired IAEA Director-General Mohamed El Baradei has described the IAEA’s basic inspection rights as “fairly limited”, complained about “half-hearted” efforts to improve the system, and expressed concern that the safeguards system operates on a “shoestring budget … comparable to a local police department”.
Examples of nuclear terrorism include:
* The hijacking of a plane in 1972 and the ensuing threat to crash it into the Oak Ridge nuclear research reactor.
* Basque separatists bombing a nuclear power plant under construction in Spain in 1982.
* ANC guerrilla fighters bombing the Koeberg nuclear plant under construction in South Africa in 1982.
* Sabotage of three of the four off-site power lines leading to the Palo Verde nuclear power plant in Arizona in 1986.
* A man ramming a station wagon under a partly opened door in the turbine building at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania in 1993.
A 12.5 kiloton bomb (a little smaller than the Hiroshima bomb) smuggled on a cargo ship into New York City, according to US government analytical tools, is estimated to cause: 52,000 immediate deaths from heat and blast; 238,000 people exposed to direct radiation, of which 10,000 would die and 44,000 would suffer acute radiation sickness; 1.5 million people would be exposed to radioactive fallout in the following few days – in the absence of effective evacuation or sheltering this could kill an additional 200,000 people and cause hundreds of thousands to suffer acute radiation sickness. (Helfand I., Forrow L., Tiwari J., 2002, ‘Nuclear terrorism’, British Medical Journal, 324:356-9.)
(For more information on nuclear terrorism see Tilman Ruff, 2006, ‘Nuclear Terrorism’, EnergyScience Coalition Briefing Paper #10, )