Academic journal article Homeland Security Affairs

Nuclear Terrorism: Are We Prepared?

Academic journal article Homeland Security Affairs

Nuclear Terrorism: Are We Prepared?

Article excerpt


Of the original National Planning Scenarios developed in the mid-2000s, the first involved the threat of terrorists employing a 10-kiloton improvised nuclear device in a large metropolitan area.1 Using highly enriched uranium stolen from another country, an unnamed group builds its own nuclear weapon and drives to the center of a city to detonate the device. In addition to wrecking havoc on the city, the nuclear weapons effects ? heat, blast, radiation, and EMP ? create significant challenges to the immediate area around the explosion. The scenario depicts hundreds of thousands of injured people and more than a million displaced persons. This scenario is offered to state and local emergency managers as a basis to plan for how they are going to deal with this possibility ? a scenario that mandates involvement by the federal government because of the catastrophic scope of the damage.

I can't answer the question as to whether state and local emergency responders across the nation are prepared for this scenario. What I can offer is that the problem isn't as challenging or as hopeless as one might believe. This scenario is not a certainty, nor is it nearly as probable an event as many other natural disasters or other deliberately caused incidents. But many planners fixate on this particular scenario as if the threat was imminent. Fortunately, the United States government (USG) has been working to reduce the threat of nuclear terrorism to the public for some time. This article will discuss the federal government's approach to the potential threat of a sub-state group planning to use a nuclear weapon against a US city. In particular, I will discuss the general threat; identify what the federal government is currently doing to reduce the threat; what the state/local emergency managers can do; and finally, the issue of whether the USG is doing enough. In this examination, I will use a public policy framework.

Public policy analysis provides a sound methodology to understand anything that the USG decides to do, or not do, in executing an effort in response to the public's needs. I prefer to use a book by Charles Jones titled An Introduction to the Study of Public Policy to provide a framework for this analysis.2 Jones outlines a general process for how public policy is executed and discusses the roles of four sets of actors involved in any public policy discussion. He identifies four types of participants who vary in the roles they play in the policy process, the values they seek to promote, the source of goals for each, and their operating styles. This model can also group the main participants within each category of actors with regards to a discussion of responding to nuclear terrorism threats.

Rationalists include those people who employ reasoned choices about the desirability of adopting different courses of action in resolving public problems, identifying the mission, and determining what it would take to accomplish stated objectives. The top policy makers in the Department of Defense (DoD), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Department of State (DoS), Department of Energy (DoE), Department of Justice (DoJ), and Director of National Intelligence (DNI) are in this group.

Technicians implement policy, focused on specialized work associated with particular stages of decision-making. They are generally expected to use their professional training to meet specific annual targets that are defined by others. In this case study, this includes the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), DoE National Labs, US Northern Command and US Special Operations Command, the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, and the National Counterproliferation Center and National Counterterrorism Center. …

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