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comparable. This makes it possible to protect some very important targets from terrorist nuclear attacks.

In conclusion, potential nuclear terrorists would encounter no serious technical problems in constructing a simple low-yield (in the order of few tons of TNT equivalent) and low-weight (in the order of a hundred kilograms) gun-type nuclear explosive device using weapons-grade or reactor-grade plutonium. A device of this kind would have destructive and thermal kill ranges of about 100 meters. Moreover, it would produce radioactive fallout with a total intensity of a few tens of curies as well as a cloud containing a few kilograms of plutonium oxide aerosol. The “threshold” amount of plutonium for such a device might exceed to some extent the mass of plutonium for an ordinary nuclear warhead.

This hypothetical example emphasizes the vital importance of very strict control over nonproliferation of any amounts of plutonium (both weapons-grade and reactor-grade material of any isotope composition). It also emphasizes the potential importance of very sensitive neutron detectors.



1. Committee on International Security and Arms Control, National Academy of Sciences. 1995. Management and Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium: Reactor-Related Options. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, p. 44.


2. Cochran, T.B., C.E. Paine. 1995. Nuclear Weapons Databook: The Role of Hydronuclear Tests and Other Low-Yield Nuclear Explosions and Their Status Under a Comprehensive Test Ban. New York: Natural Resources Defense Council, p. 6.


3. Mark, J.C. 1993. Explosive properties of reactor-grade plutonium. Science and Global Security 4(1):111-124.


4. Fetter, S., F. von Hippel. 1990. The hazard from plutonium dispersal by nuclear-warhead accident. Science and Global Security 2(1):21-41.


5. Occasional Report. 1990. The Black Sea Experiment. Science and Global Security 1(3-4):323-333.

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