• Send page
  • Print page

Use of nuclear and radiological weapons by terrorists?

30-09-2005 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 859, by Christoph Wirz, Emmanuel Egger

The hurdles for terrorists to get a nuclear weapon are extremely high. The probability of terrorist use of such a weapon is therefore extremely low. In contrast to the nuclear weapon case there are in principle no insurmountable obstacles to the acquisition and use of radiological weapons by a well-organized terrorist group, even though such an action remains high-tech and thus very difficult.


Christoph Wirz and Emmanuel Egger
Christoph Wirz (Dr. phil. nat.) and Emmanuel Egger (Dr. rer. nat.) are senior physicists in charge of nuclear issues at the Spiez Laboratory, the Swiss Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Defence Establishment. 

There is great concern that terrorists could obtain nuclear or radiological weapons and detonate them in a large city. The authors analyse the technical requirements for and obstacles to obtaining such weapons. What difficulties would have to be surmounted? Could these problems be solved by a terrorist organization without direct support from a Sate possessing nuclear weapons? The authors conclude that nuclear weapons are most likely out of reach for terrorists. However, radiological weapons may well be used by terrorists in the future. The possible consequences of such an attack are discussed.  

  pdf file   Full text in PDF format    (243kb)  
  About Acrobat PDF files 

Related sections