Cover Image


View/Hide Left Panel

Potential Consequences

Probability of Occurrence

Technical and Policy Changes

Approaches to Mitigation

Potentially catastrophic-massive loss of life and severe political and economic destruction possible

Moderate over the next five years, with a high potential for surprise

Theft or diversion may not require state assistance and may go undetected if theft occurs in Russia

Improve indications and warnings capabilities



Stolen or diverted weapons could be converted for terrorist use

Improve security of Russian and Pakistani nuclear weapons at storage sites and borders



HEU-based weapons smuggled into the United States could be difficult to detect and recover

Accelerate deployment of sensor arrays at critical U.S. entry points and targets



First responders may be killed or incapacitated by attack

Develop and announce policies to deter use of weapons by terrorist states




Improve attribution capabilities

A recent book2 added radioactive sources to this list and described what the authors called the four faces of nuclear terrorism, as follows:

  1. the theft and detonation of an intact nuclear weapon

  2. the theft or purchase of fissile material leading to the fabrication and detonation of a crude nuclear weapon—an IND

  3. attacks against and sabotage of nuclear facilities, in particular nuclear power plants, causing the release of large amounts of radiation


Ferguson, C., W. Potter, A. Sands, L. Spector, and F. Wehling. 2004. The Four Faces of Nuclear Terrorism. Monterey, CA: Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement