— Volume V No. 3: September 2009 —

Inaccurate Prediction of Nuclear Weapons Effects and Possible Adverse Influences on Nuclear Terrorism Preparedness


Lewis Perelman September 24, 2009 13:52
This is a very interesting, significant analysis. However the author's hopeful conclusion that the impacts of a terrorist attack on an urban area with a nuclear weapon would be less onerous than commonly assumed rests on assumptions that are not so comforting. In particular, the author assumes
Jack Hamilton October 13, 2009 07:13
This is an interesting article, but I think I took something away from it that perhaps the author did not intend. First I agree with the last comments that a terrorist will probably have researched and know the information contained in this report. What that means to me is that even though Manhattan
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Robert Harney

Robert C. Harney is an associate professor of systems engineering at the Naval Postgraduate School. He teaches courses in combat systems engineering (sensors, weapons, and system integration), weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and weapons effects. His research involves studies of ship survivability and counter-proliferation of WMD, especially unconventional WMD. Before joining NPS in 1995 Dr. Harney spent more than two decades as a researcher and engineering manager in the defense industry (Martin Marietta) and at national laboratories (MIT Lincoln Lab and Lawrence Livermore National Lab). He holds a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and Physics from Harvey Mudd College and a PhD in Engineering - Applied Science from University of California at Davis. Dr. Harney may be reached at harney@nps.edu.

Policy makers use predictions of nuclear weapons effects to base legislation and response plans addressing terrorist use of nuclear weapons. Commonly voiced predictions appear to derive from traditional “Cold War” military effects analyses. This article argues that traditional nuclear weapons effects analyses dramatically overestimate the damage that a terrorist nuclear weapon is likely to produce in a metropolitan area. Simple models are described that more realistically address a terrorist nuclear explosion in an urban environment. Casualty estimates are presented for both the traditional and the non-traditional models. If casualties and damage approach the order of magnitude discrepancy suggested by the models, then planning for terrorist attacks and other government actions may be based on seriously erroneous assumptions and should be revisited. Far from being hopeless (as the traditional analysis suggests), the scenarios presented here argue that consequence management and disaster relief are not only essential but also practically achievable.

Read full article.

Harney, Robert. “Inaccurate Prediction of Nuclear Weapons Effects and Possible Adverse Influences on Nuclear Terrorism Preparedness.” Homeland Security Affairs 5, issue 3 (September 2009)