April 15, 2010
By: Steve Sternberg
The White House has warned state and local governments not to expect a “significant federal response” at the scene of a terrorist nuclear attack for 24 to 72 hours after the blast, according to a planning guide.
President Obama told delegates from 47 nations at the Nuclear Security Summit on Tuesday that it would be a “catastrophe for the world” if al-Qaeda or another terrorist group got a nuclear device, because so many lives would be lost and it would be so hard to mitigate damage from the blast.
A 10-kiloton nuclear explosion would level buildings within half a mile of ground zero, generate 900-mph winds, bathe the landscape with radiation and produce a plume of fallout that would drift for hundreds of miles, the guide says. It was posted on the Internet and sent to local officials.
The document is designed to help local officials craft plans for responding to a nuclear blast. The prospect is anything but far-fetched, says Rick Nelson of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Do I think in my lifetime I’ll see the detonation of a nuclear device? I do.”
One challenge he says, will be to persuade survivors to stay indoors, shielded from dangerous radiation until they’re given the all-clear or told to evacuate. “In all likelihood, families will be separated,” he says. “It’s going to be scary to sit tight, though it’s the right thing to do.”
The government’s planning scenarios envision a terrorist strike in an urban area with a 10-kiloton device, slightly smaller than the roughly 15-kiloton Hiroshima bomb. A 10-kiloton device packs the punch of 10,000 tons of TNT.
The chaos that would inevitably follow such a blast would make it difficult for the federal government to react quickly. “Emergency response is principally a local function,” the document says, though “federal assistance will be mobilized as rapidly as possible.”
The “Planning Guidance for Response to a Nuclear Detonation” was developed by a task force headed by the White House Homeland Security Council. It was circulated to state and local government officials and first responders in January 2009.
The report has never been formally released to the public, White House spokesman Nick Shapiro says.
It offers practical guidance to first responders and advice on radiation measurement and decontamination.
Disaster experts say local governments aren’t prepared for a nuclear attack. “There isn’t a single American city, in my estimation, that has sufficient plans for a nuclear terrorist event,” says Irwin Redlener of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.
The message for families is simple, he says: Stay put. Wait for instructions. If you’ve been outside, dust off, change, shower. “What citizens need to know fits on a wallet-sized card,” Redlener says. “A limited amount of information would save tens of thousands of people.”
April 15, 2010
The Washington Times
By: Bill Gertz and Eli Lake
The Obama administration is warning that the danger of a terrorist attack with nuclear weapons is increasing, but U.S. officials say the claim is not based on new intelligence and questioned whether the threat is being overstated.
President Obama said in a speech before the 47-nation Nuclear Security Summit, which concluded Tuesday, that “the risk of a nuclear confrontation between nations has gone down, but the risk of nuclear attack has gone up.”
The two-day meeting concluded with an agreement by participants to take steps to prevent non-state actors like al Qaeda from obtaining nuclear weapons, either through theft of existing weapons or through making their own with pilfered nuclear material.
The joint statement called nuclear terrorism one of the most challenging threats to international security and called for tougher security to prevent terrorists, criminals and others from acquiring nuclear goods.
But Henry Sokolski, a member of the congressional Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, said that there is no specific intelligence on ongoing terrorist procurement of nuclear material.
“We were given briefings and when we tried to find specific intelligence on the threat of any known terrorist efforts to get a bomb, the answer was we did not have any.”
Mr. Obama told reporters that there was a range of views on the danger but that all the conferees “agreed on the urgency and seriousness of the threat.”
Mr. Sokolski said the idea that “we know that this is eminent has got to be somehow informed conjecture and apprehension, [but] it is not driven by any specific intelligence per se.”
“We have reasons to believe this and to be worried, but we don’t have specific intelligence about terrorist efforts to get the bomb,” he said. “So we have to do general efforts to guard against his possibility, like securing the material everywhere.”
A senior U.S. intelligence official also dismissed the administration’s assertion that the threat of nuclear terrorism is growing.
“The threat has been there,” the official said. “But there is no new intelligence.”
The official said the administration appears to be inflating the danger in ways similar to what critics of the Bush administration charged with regard to Iraq: hyping intelligence to support its policies.
The official said one likely motivation for the administration’s new emphasis on preventing nuclear terrorism is to further the president’s goal of eliminating nuclear weapons. While the U.S. nuclear arsenal would be useful in retaliating against a sovereign state, it would be less so against a terrorist group. But if the latter is the world’s major nuclear threat, the official explained, then the U.S. giving up its weapons seems less risky.
The administration recently signed an agreement with Russia that would cut U.S. nuclear weapons and delivery systems to 1,550 warheads and 800 delivery vehicles. During the Cold War, the U.S. and Soviet nuclear arsenals both topped 10,000 warheads.
Mr. Obama said during a news conference that the summit was part of a larger effort to “pursue the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”
Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, said he was disappointed that the summit did not do more to focus on Iran.
The nonbinding communique issued during the summit “largely restates current policy, and makes no meaningful progress in dealing with nuclear terrorism threats or the ticking clock represented by Iran’s nuclear weapons program,” Mr. Kyl said in a statement.
The new focus on nuclear terrorism emerged recently in the Nuclear Posture Review report made public last week that identified nuclear terrorism as “today’s most immediate and extreme danger.”