Recommendation 2.8: Immediate steps should be taken by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to update the Federal Radiological Emergency Response Plan, or to develop a separate plan, to respond to nuclear and radiological terrorist attacks, especially an attack with a nuclear weapon on a U.S. city. This plan should, at a minimum, address the following needs: (1) rapid mobilization of nationwide medical resources to cope with burns, physical trauma, and poorly characterized outcomes of exposure to radiation; (2) rapid airlift of field hospitals to the affected area; (3) means to provide the affected public with basic information on protection against radiation and fallout; (4) technical procedures for decontaminating people, land, and buildings; and (5) protection of citizens and foreign nationals from vigilante attacks. This plan should be mock exercised and, if required, incident site monitoring capabilities should be enhanced. Steps also should be taken to ensure that federal decision makers are familiar with this plan.

Should a nuclear or radiological attack occur, response effectiveness could be enhanced through public education efforts carried out well in advance of a nuclear or radiological attack. These efforts could include the stocking of potassium iodide pills by individuals to reduce the potential for thyroid cancers from releases of radioactive iodine. Such efforts may increase the public’s willingness to accept market-based recovery approaches for land use and permitted activities in regions that are contaminated at levels just a few times above background radiation levels.

Attribution to Identify Characteristics of Weapons and Special Nuclear Material and Their Sources of Origin

As the history of the Cold War has shown, the most effective defense against attacks with nuclear weapons is a policy of nuclear retaliation. This past success suggests that the United States may be able to deter some future state-supported or state-sponsored nuclear and radiological terrorist acts by announcing in advance that it will retaliate by whatever means deemed appropriate, including the use of nuclear weapons, against states and terrorist groups responsible for nuclear or radiological attacks against U.S. citizens or assets.13 To be a useful deterrent, however, this doctrine would have to be formulated and announced in advance, and its credibility would depend in large part on the ability of the United States to demonstrate to the rest of the world that it has the technical means to attribute such attacks to states or terrorist groups.


The analogy between the Cold War and post-September 11 worlds is imperfect in that terrorist activity is dispersed geographically and may not be politically motivated. A doctrine of assured retaliation probably would not deter fanatical terrorist groups, but it may discourage states from providing such groups with aid and comfort.

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