Many countries are neglecting their nuclear security—today's summit on the issue in Washington is vitalby Cristina Varriale / March 31, 2016 / Leave a comment
Read more: How can we avoid nuclear catastrophe?
The terrorist attacks in Brussels last week, in which 32 people died, reminded states of the importance of tackling the threat of nuclear and radiological terrorism. Investigations into the bombings revealed that Islamic State, who claimed responsibility for the attacks, were actively monitoring workers at Belgian nuclear facilities. In response to this discovery, at two Belgian nuclear plants all non-essential staff were sent home within hours of the attacks, as a precautionary measure. Though IS didn’t manage to access nuclear material in the end, this indicates they may have been interested in acquiring material usable in a radiological weapon, or “dirty bomb.”
Dirty bombs use conventional explosives to spread radioactive material, but lack the nuclear chain reaction and radioactive fallout caused by the explosion of an actual nuclear weapon. Though most of a radiological weapon’s damage would come from its conventional explosives, it is their disproportionate psychological impact on the public that makes them attractive to non-state groups eager to cause mass panic. Such groups may feel that achieving the capability to build “unconventional” weapons will increase the threat others believe they pose, and the seriousness with which their aims are taken. The Islamic State-linked bombers in Belgium are not the first non-state actors to take interest in this particular type of weapon, nor are they likely to be the last.
Given the continued interest by terrorists in acquiring dirty bomb capabilities, it is essential that ntntries around the world recognise illicit procurement pathways and take action to secure radiological materials and the sites in which they are used.
Gaining access to the requisite material is the largest hurdle for a terrorist group seeking to develop a dirty bomb capability, and can be attempted in a number of ways. Firstly, a non-state actor might choose to buy material from the black market. In 2015, Moldovan authorities arrested a member of an organised crime syndicate who claimed to have access to Caesium-137, a radiological material…