Rebooting Nuclear Security

VIENNA – In these days of economic woe, potential pandemic disease, and widespread civil unrest, it may come as a surprise that so many people around the world still view nuclear conflict as the greatest threat facing humanity.

They do so with good reason. Consider the potential effects of a 50-megaton nuclear explosion, similar to the Tsar Bomba, detonated in October 1961, which shattered windows 900 kilometers (560 miles) away and sent a mushroom cloud rising above the stratosphere.

Global agreements such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), along with the general sense of goodwill immediately following the Cold War, may have led to the perception that such a weapon would never be used in combat. But there is an increasing realization that we cannot breathe easy just yet.

In considering the risks, the emphasis has shifted over the last decade from preventing additional states from acquiring nuclear weapons to preventing terrorist groups and other non-state actors from acquiring them (or critical components).