ISIS and the Threat of a Nuclear ‘Dirty Bomb’

Back in July, Iraq’s UN ambassador wrote a letter to the world body stating that ISIS fanatics had seized 88 pounds of uranium compounds. As Reuters reported, the ambassador stated that the nuclear materials can be used in “manufacturing weapons of mass-destruction.”

However, it is unlikely that the materials are enriched uranium needed to assemble a weapon. Moreover, the fighters are likely lacking the expertise to manufacture the low-grade uranium into a nuclear device.

The Dirty Bomb Threat

The danger of a dirty bomb would be wrapping nuclear material around an explosive where the detonation would blow radioactive matter around the perimeter of the blast.

So, in fact, the actual casualty threat of such a weapon is, in terms of a typical terrorist attack, more psychological than actually being able to cause “mass-destruction.”

Lack of expertise is what seems to be currently preventing the use of a dirty bomb.

One nuclear security researcher stated that the fighters: “almost certainly lack the knowledge to be able to turn the low-grade material into a nuclear device.”

However, she says: “nothing is impossible. If they’re determined enough then they’ll find a way to develop a radiological weapon and use it.”

If lack of expertise is the reason that dirty bombs have so far been somewhat under the radar of the most burning issues in mainstream discourse, obtaining materials is not.

According to former Assistant Secretary of Defense, Graham Allison, obtaining nuclear materials is not extremely difficult due to abundance of questionably-secured weapons and stockpiles in places such as Russia and the former Soviet republics. Materials that are being produced in places like Pakistan are also a source of concern.

Similar materials are also commonly present in hospitals or metal mining/extractive industries.

A Newsweek article reported that the remainder of Iraq’s nuclear weapons materials and laboratory equipment was smuggled out of the country after the U.S. invasion.

The materials that were then seized in Iraq came from Mosul University.

Megaton Complexity and Perspective

The specter of nuclear terrorism puts some perspective on Western democracies adopting draconian intelligence gathering measures as well as the all-encompassing war on terrorism in general.

The average citizens can empower himself by being more aware of the issue says Allison. Such as being aware who may be wanting to obtain nuclear materials for a nuclear plant, food-processing, a medical facility or other industry.

Yet, without public outcry, a government will only go so far. Not to mention when there is a wall in international relations (e.g. Russia, Pakistan, China) and our own government’s mammoth intransigence.

To try and wrap this up, peace of mind may and heavy-handed intelligence/espionage and militant global policing are unlikely to ever unite.

The whole sense that one gets from an issue of this size and complexity is that, cooperation and compromise is the only thing that will deter all the crazies from pursuing apocalyptic dreams.

That is, cooperation on matters of security and human rights.

When the majority of sane people can believe that someone actually care about them, only this way, I think, will the masses of disenfranchised-minded people (be they politicians or common folk) on the edge of rationality be persuaded that blood-baths are wrong no matter whose blood is being spilled.

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