William H. Tobey on nuclear security

Building a Better International Nuclear Security Standard
U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS: Johns Hopkins University
March 2012
Working paper by: William H. Tobey, Belfer Center senior fellow
Topic: Nuclear security

“That al Qaeda or another group bent on inflicting the maximum possible carnage might attain a nuclear capability is the greatest threat to international security today. A 1986 National Intelligence Estimate concluded that a small number of groups may have been capable of high-level nuclear terrorism, if they had access to a weapon or sufficient fissile material, but were inhibited by the political consequences. Since then, the march of scientific and technological progress has pushed farther and farther past the frontier that was once marked by nuclear weapons. Once at the edge of scientific knowledge, nuclear weapons technology is now largely an engineering problem. There is more computing power in an iPhone than existed on the mesas of Los Alamos in 1945, and advances in computer aided design and manufacturing have spread high precision engineering around the world. In short, betting anything consequential on the notion that terrorists would be incapable of setting off a nuclear device, were they able to obtain fissile material, would be foolish.”

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