What? No suitcase nukes? Damn, there goes my fantasy of blowing up the world by sneaking one through customs.
Members of Congress have warned about the dangers of suitcase nuclear weapons. Hollywood has made television shows and movies about them. Even the Federal Emergency Management Agency has alerted Americans to a threat – information the White House includes on its Web site.
But government experts and intelligence officials say such a threat gets vastly more attention than it deserves. These officials said a true suitcase nuke would be highly complex to produce, require significant upkeep and cost a small fortune.
Counterproliferation authorities do not completely rule out the possibility that these portable devices once existed. But they do not think the threat remains.
“The suitcase nuke is an exciting topic that really lends itself to movies,” said Vahid Majidi, the assistant director of the FBI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate. “No one has been able to truly identify the existence of these devices.”
Nuclear devices are either plutonium, which comes from reprocessing the nuclear material from reactors, or uranium, which comes from gradually enriching that naturally found element.
Majidi says it would take about 22 pounds of plutonium or 130 pounds of uranium to create a nuclear detonation. Both would require explosives to set off the blast, but significantly more for the uranium.
Although uranium is considered easier for terrorists to obtain, it would be too heavy for one person to lug around in a suitcase.
Plutonium, he notes, would require the cooperation of a state with a plutonium reprocessing program. It seems highly unlikely that a country would knowingly cooperate with terrorists because the device would bear the chemical fingerprints of that government. “I don’t think any nation is willing to participate in this type of activity,” Majidi said.
That means the fissile material probably would have to be stolen. “It is very difficult for that much material to walk away,” he added.
There is one more wrinkle: Nuclear devices require a lot of maintenance because the material that makes them so deadly also can wreak havoc on their electrical systems.
“The more compact the devices are – guess what? – the more frequently they need to be maintained. Everything is compactly designed around that radiation source, which damages everything over a period of time,” Majidi said.
Well. I’m bummed, y’all.
I mean, it was such a cool plot device. And now I can’t even stick one into any of my fiction. Unless I want to be laughed at by fellow authors who actually fact-check this shit before committing it to manuscript. The only ones who won’t laugh are the TV whores who produce ‘winger faves like “24” to titillate and scare the FUX crowd. And I don’t write for TV, precisely because it is such a whorish medium, and any old bullshit is likely to be taken for fact if it looks cool enough onscreen. (This, folks, is in a nutshell the answer to the old snark, “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?” It’s easy to get rich on pure stupidity, as long as it finds a ready market. Just ask anyone who’s shelled out money to see the last three Star Wars films.)
Oh well. I guess I don’t have to lose any more sleep about the prospect of finding one of these under my airplane seat the next time I fly. That’s gotta be worth something.