‘Some big obstacles’: Nuclear attack ‘not in interests’ of terrorists – Man Uni expert

It is not in the best interests of terrorist organisations such as Islamic State (ISIS) to use nuclear weapons, according to a Manchester terrorism expert.

Speaking at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington earlier this month, US President Barack warned that there ‘was no doubt’ that ‘madmen’ would utilise nuclear weapons if they ever had the opportunity.

However, Professor Francis Livens, Interim Director of the Dalton Nuclear Institute at the University of Manchester, said that such an attack’s ‘unpredictable consequences’ make it an unlikely choice.

“It’s not in anybody’s interest to let the genie out of the bottle,” he told MM.

“It would be such a huge thing to do and so unpredictable in its consequences.

“There’s a phrase from the 1980’s when you still had the Soviet Union and the Cold War: ‘Why do we need 20,000 nuclear weapons? All they will do is make the rubble bounce’.

“That really was the ability to erase everything on the surface of the earth.”

Due to the complex nature of developing nuclear material, Professor Livens also insisted that organisations such as ISIS and rogue nations like North Korea would need outside assistance, made unlikely by the ‘enormous trouble’ that would land such countries in.

While a truly determined nation or organisation could produce a nuclear weapon of great consequence there are numerous examples of countries who have threatened to do so only to shy away from it.

“They are horrific things and you really wouldn’t want terrorists to get their hands on them,” Professor Livens said.

“Russia have suffered with quite a number of serious terrorist incidents over the last few years and I cannot see it being in their interest to support anybody in developing some sort of nuclear terrorist threat.

“Iran’s original programme could’ve taken them towards a weapon relatively quickly if they had made the decision to go that way, but in practice what they’ve now done is very clearly turn away from a path.

“South Africa had a small nuclear arsenal and then changed politically and gave it up.

“So nations can change their minds and can walk away from these things.”

The University professor did admit that radioactive weapons in the form of a ‘dirty bomb’ could be more feasible.

However, he cast doubt on the damage such a weapon could actually achieve.

“A dirty bomb is technically much simpler, you just need something radioactive and a bit of plastic explosive,” he said.

“A small nuclear weapon would cost you the middle of Manchester. A dirty bomb would not come remotely close in that sort of way. In terms of effect they are a millions miles apart.

“It would be far more a propaganda and public relations coo than anything of any real health significance for an exposed population.”

Image courtesy of Day Donaldson, via Flickr, with thanks

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