Could Terrorists Acquire and Detonate Nuclear Weapons? A Scenario

Nicholas O'Brien

Research output: Book chapter/Published conference paperChapter


The aim of this paper is to examine whether a terrorist group such as Al Qaeda (AQ) has the intent and capability to detonate a crude nuclear device in a western city with New York as the chosen city for the scenario. The methodology used is historical examination of some past terrorist attacks, a review of available information to determine whether it would be possible for terrorists to obtain the necessary components and expertise to construct a weapon and subsequently transport the device across international boundaries. Some of the likely social and legal implications of such an attack are also considered using the aftermath of the July 2005 attacks in London as an example. The main findings indicate that, at a minimum, senior AQ personnel have discussed obtaining a nuclear weapon and that it may be possible to obtain the materials and expertise needed to construct such a weapon and transport it across international boundaries. Any anti-terrorism legislation introduced following such an attack will need to be proportionate to the actual threat to avoid alienating communities.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAustralia and the New Technologies
Subtitle of host publicationEvidence Based Policy in Public Administration
EditorsKatina Michael, M.G. Michael
Place of PublicationWollongong, Australia
PublisherUniversity of Wollongong Press
Number of pages16
ISBN (Print)9781741281507
Publication statusPublished - 2008


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