How Real Is a Nuclear Terror Strike?

Jack Bauer from 24 spent numerous episodes chasing down nuclear terrorists. Red from Blacklist chased down nuclear terrorist trying to get their hands on a tactical nuclear weapon and NCIS: Los Angeles regularly has nuclear terror as a plot. But how real is the threat of a nuclear terror strike outside of Hollywood?

As the international nuclear summit ended in Washington last week, the big topic of discussion was how to stop terrorist groups like ISIS getting their hands on nuclear material. The toxic combination ISIS has of thousands of foreign fighters, some which are well educated, combined with the vast amount of cash they have available, makes this threat very real, even closer than some people may think.  

EMPW Threat/Nuclear Missile Strike

An electromagnetic pulse weapon (EMPW) is a nuclear weapon that detonates in the atmosphere which will trigger a series of electromagnetic pulses and fry everything electronic. It will darken everything and take us back to the dark ages. No cell reception, no wifi, no stock exchange, nothing. However, this will require access to either an intercontinental ballistic missile or a platform to launch such a missile from. For a terrorist group to get access to this, they must either steal it from a very well guarded facility or make a deal with a rogue nation like North Korea. Although this is a plausible scenario, it is probably highly unlikely. The same goes for a nuclear missile strike, highly unlikely that a terror group will be able to pull this off without any detection.

The Dirty Bomb

A dirty bomb is not a suicide vest which fell into the mud.

It is in fact where radioactive material is obtained from either a nuclear or medical facility through a radicalised or blackmailed employee. The terror group then adds this material to conventional explosives, like the 4kg of TNT found in a ISIS apartment and once detonated will radioactively contaminate at least 10 square miles of city infrastructure and make it uninhabitable for years.

These materials can also be acquired through the black market and ISIS has sufficient funding to buy enough material to make such a dirty bomb. This scenario is much more likely and perhaps have already been planned.

The fear of a nuclear terror attack however is already a victory for the terrorists. Such an attack will be unprecedented and will create worldwide havoc. 

Like the 9/11 attacks, a nuclear terror attack will change the world. Forever.

In order to prevent that the heart of a modern city becomes a ghost town after a nuclear attack, it is imperative that further steps needs to be taken to secure access to these materials in areas like South East Asia and Africa, where security of such materials, are not always as strict as it should be, which makes it more accessible and brings the terrorist groups one step closer to the ultimate attack.


Barry Oberholzer

Born in Houston, Texas, a former professional rugby player and current CrossFit and Ironman athlete, Barry  is the founder of TerrorMate app and is a counter-terrorism and intelligence expert. Formerly Barry served as a confidential informant for Department of Homeland Security, Joint Terrorism Task Force, Belgium Customs Intelligence and HM Revenue & Customs Intelligence in the United Kingdom. 

One of his most impactful successes was in his identification of Iranian sanction busting syndicates who smuggled US manufactured aircraft and parts to Iran which led to the arrests of several prominent international businessmen. He also had numerous successes in major illicit cigarette seizures in Europe.