Cover image for Nuclear terrorism : the ultimate preventable catastrophe
Nuclear terrorism : the ultimate preventable catastrophe
Allison, Graham T.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Times Books/Henry Holt, 2004.
Physical Description:
263 pages: illustrations; 24 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HV6432 .A45 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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A leading strategist opens our eyes to the greatest terrorist threat of all-and how to prevent it before it's too late Americans in the twenty-first century are keenly aware of the many forms of terrorism: hijackings, biological attacks, chemical weapons. But rarely do we allow ourselves to face squarely the deadliest form of terrorism, because it is almost too scary to think about-a terrorist group exploding a nuclear device in an American city.In this urgent call to action, Graham Allison, one of America's leading experts on nuclear weapons and national security, presents the evidence for two provocative, compelling conclusions. First, if policy makers in Washington keep doing what they are currently doing about the threat, a nuclear terrorist attack on America is likely to occur in the next decade. And if one lengthens the time frame, a nuclear strike is inevitable. Second, the surprising and largely unrecognized good news is that nuclear terrorism is, in fact, preventable. In these pages, Allison offers an ambitious but feasible blueprint for eliminating the possibility of nuclear terrorist attacks.The United States once relied on the threat of mutually assured destruction to deter the Soviet Union from launching a nuclear strike. But in today's fragmented world, a new strategy is needed, especially with nuclear material vulnerable to theft or sale through black-market channels.The choice is ours: to grab this beast by the horns or to be impaled on those horns. We do not have the luxury of hoping the problem will go away, and Allison shows why.

Author Notes

Graham Allison , founding dean of Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, is the director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and the Douglas Dillon Professor of Government. He served as assistant secretary of defense for policy and plans and is the author of Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis. He lives in Belmont, Massachusetts.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Prominent in political science for decades, Allison occasionally rotates into the government he studies, most recently at the Pentagon for the Clinton administration, during which an alarming international deterioration in the control of nuclear weapons occurred. It continues to be so serious that experts are surprised that terrorists haven't visited atomic catastrophe upon an American city--yet. Averting that disaster is the object of this book's proposals. Addressing general readers, Allison comprehensively discusses the perilous situation, from the technology of nuclear weapons to how terrorists could acquire an atomic bomb and then infiltrate port and border security. Lest readers flee to Montana in despair before finishing his book, Allison offers optimism in his multipoint plan to save the day. In essence, he argues that the U.S. government should buy the world's loose fissile metal, negotiate a termination of North Korea's and Iran's bomb projects, and revamp the International Atomic Energy Agency. Required for the current affairs shelf, this work will garner extra interest should its author reenter government in a Kerry administration. --Gilbert Taylor Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

A founding dean of Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, Allison applies a long, distinguished career in government and academia to this sobering-indeed frightening-presentation of U.S. vulnerability to a terrorist nuclear attack. While he begins by asserting such an attack is preventable, the balance of his text is anything but reassuring. Allison begins by describing the broad spectrum of groups who could intend a nuclear strike against the U.S. They range from an al-Qaeda with its own Manhattan Project to small and determined doomsday cults. Their tools can include a broad spectrum of weapons, either stolen or homemade from raw materials increasingly available worldwide. Once terrorists acquire a nuclear bomb, Allison argues, its delivery to an American target may be almost impossible to stop under current security measures. The Bush administration, correct in waging war against nuclear terrorism, has not, he says, yet developed a comprehensive counter strategy. Arguing that the only way to eliminate nuclear terrorism's threat is to lock down the weapons at the source, Allison recommends nothing less than a new international order based on no insecure nuclear material, no new facilities for processing uranium or enriching plutonium and no new nuclear states. Those policies, Allison believes, do not stretch beyond the achievable, if pursued by a combination of quid pro quos and intimidation in an international context of negotiation and a U.S. foreign policy he describes as "humble." A humble policy in turn will facilitate building a world alliance against nuclear terrorism and acquiring the intelligence necessary for success against prospective nuclear terrorists. It will also require time, money and effort. Like the Cold War, the war on nuclear terrorism will probably be a long struggle in the twilight. But no student of the fact, Allison asserts, doubts that another major terrorist attack is in the offing. "We do not have the luxury," he declares, "of hoping the beast will simply go away." Agent, John Taylor Williams at Kneerim & Williams. (Aug. 9) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



From Nuclear Terrorism : -Every day 30,000 trucks, 6,500 rail cars, and 140 ships deliver more than 50,000 cargo containers into the United States, but only 5 percent ever get screened. But even this screening, which rarely involves physical inspection, may not detect nuclear weapons or fissile material. - There are approximately 130 nuclear research reactors in 40 countries. Two dozen of these have enough highly enriched uranium for one or more nuclear bombs. - If terrorists bought or stole a complete weapon, they could set it off immediately. If instead they bought fissile material, they could build a crude but working nuclear bomb within a year. - In Russia, 10,000 nuclear warheads and fissile material for 30,000 additional weapons remain vulnerable to theft. - Pakistan's black marketers, led by the country's leading nuclear scientist, A. Q. Khan, have sold comprehensive "nuclear starter kits" that included advanced centrifuge components, blueprints for nuclear warheads, uranium samples in quantities sufficient to make a small bomb, and even provided personal consulting services to assist nuclear development. Excerpted from Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe by Graham T. Allison All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 1
Part 1 Inevitablep. 17
1 Who Could Be Planning a Nuclear Terrorist Attack?p. 19
2 What Nuclear Weapons Could Terrorists Use?p. 43
3 Where Could Terrorists Acquire a Nuclear Bomb?p. 61
4 When Could Terrorists Launch the First Nuclear Attack?p. 87
5 How Could Terrorists Deliver a Nuclear Weapon to Its Target?p. 104
Part 2 Preventablep. 121
6 Through the Prism of 9/11p. 123
7 Where We Need to Be: A World of Three No'sp. 140
8 Getting from Here to There: A Road Map of Seven Yesesp. 176
Conclusionp. 203
Afterwordp. 211
Frequently Asked Questions about Nuclear Terrorismp. 221
Notesp. 233
Acknowledgmentsp. 259