but is expected to take several years to complete. Given the potential importance of attribution to deterring nuclear attacks, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s efforts to develop an attribution capability should continue to declared operability as quickly as practicable.
Physical and operational changes may have to be made to some of the nation’s nuclear power plants to mitigate vulnerabilities to attacks from the air with a large commercial airliner or a smaller aircraft loaded with high explosives and possibly to attacks from the ground using high-explosive projectiles. The technical analyses that are now being carried out by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and industry to understand the effects of such attacks on reactor containment buildings and essential auxiliary facilities are critical to understanding the full magnitude of this threat. These analyses should be carried to completion as soon as possible, and follow-on work to identify vulnerabilities on a plant-by-plant basis should be undertaken as soon as these initial studies are completed.
The likely aim of a terrorist attack with a radiological dispersion device would be to spread fear and panic and cause disruption. Recovery from an attack would therefore depend on how the attack is handled by first responders, political leaders, the media, and general members of the public. A technically credible spokesperson at the national level who is perceived as being outside the political arena should be prepared to provide accurate and usable information to the media and public concerning public health and safety risks and appropriate response actions in the aftermath of a nuclear or radiological attack.
Although radiological attacks would be unlikely to cause large numbers of casualties, the potential for inflicting economic loss and causing terror or panic warrants increased attention to the control and use of radiological sources by regulatory agencies and materials licensees. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and states having agreements with this agency should tighten regulations for obtaining and possessing radiological sources that could be used in terrorist attacks, as well as requirements for securing and tracking these sources.
Important progress is being made by the R&D and policy communities on reducing the nation’s vulnerability to nuclear and radiological terrorism. There is not much evidence, however, that the R&D activities are being coordinated, that thought is being given to prioritizing these activities against other national counterterrorism needs, or that effective mechanisms are in place to transfer the results of these activities to applications. A single federal agency should be designated as the nation’s lead research and development agency for nuclear and radiological counterterrorism. This agency should develop a focused and adequately funded research and development program and should work to ensure that effective mechanisms are in place for the timely transfer of results to the homeland defense effort.