Primitive nuclear devices - a real threat?

Authors:

  • Arbman Gunnar
  • Axelsson Anders
  • Bergman Ronny
  • Melin Lena
  • Ringbom Anders
  • Oliver Lena
  • Widlund Lennart
  • Wigg Lars
  • Ågren Göran

Publish date: 2002-01-01

Report number: FOI-R--0735--SE

Pages: 14

Written in: Swedish

Abstract

This report starts with a short description of current threats and what may constitute underlying motives for actors optioning use of a primitive nuclear device for their purposes. Furthermore, the necessary issuing organization means to produce a functioning - although primitive - nuclear device is analysed with particular regard to the connoted feasibility for a minor group or terrorist organisation, as well as an assessment of the likely yield of such a device. A discussion follows on possibilities to detect a primitive nuclear device by means of its emitted radiation, and what kinds of fissile material that appear to be most attractive for the production purpose. In addition, related severe damage, and its range at different yield levels, to exposed individuals and certain types of building are surveyed. In conclusion our analysis implies that primitive nuclear devices constitute a serious threat, and that possession of a sufficient amount of fissile material, i.e. plutonium or highly enriched uranium, establishes the critical step towards the accomplishment of a functioning device. Mostlikely, the fissile material is acquired by illegal means. In our opinion, a small group is incapable of clandestine production, by themselves, of sufficient quantities of fissile material starting from raw material. Hence, it is of utmost urgency to procure efficient means to prevent abduction of significant quantities of fissile material from existing sources during storage or handling.