Nuclear Terrorism Potential: Research Reactors vs. Power Reactors?

Journal Article

Published By

OMZ: Osterreichische Militarische Zeitschrift (Austrian Military Periodical), page(s): 9-14


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This paper discusses three questions:

  1. Could terrorists or others steal nuclear fuel from research rectors, to make either a nuclear weapon or a "dirty bomb," a radiological dispersal device?
  2. Could terrorists attack a research reactor with conventional explosives, for example with a truck loaded with such explosives, in order to disperse radioactivity from the fuel of the reactor to an area downwind of the reactor?
  3. How do power reactors compare with research reactors as targets of terrorist attacks?

The answer to the first two questions is a qualified yes. In the comparison called for in the third question, the low-enriched uranium in power reactors is unsuitable for making nuclear weapons, without major reprocessing. However, the highly enriched uranium burned in many research reactors around the world is suitable for making nuclear weapons, if enough of it is available. Both power reactors and research reactors could be targets for terrorists trying to attack a reactor with a truck bomb, for the purpose of dispersing radioactive material, or trying to steal such material for the purpose of making a dirty bomb. The variations from reactor to reactor, in both attractiveness to terrorists and protection of the facility, are widespread.

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