Nuclear terrorism denotes the detonation of a yield-producing nuclear bomb containing fissile material by terrorists. Some definitions of nuclear terrorism include the sabotage of a nuclear facility and/or the detonation of a radiological device, colloquially termed a dirty bomb, but consensus is lacking. In legal terms, nuclear terrorism is an offense committed if a person unlawfully and intentionally “uses in any way radioactive material … with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury; or with the intent to cause substantial damage to property or to the environment; or with the intent to compel a natural or legal person, an international organization or a State to do or refrain from doing an act”, according to the 2005 United Nations International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism.
As early as December 1945, politicians worried about the possibility of smuggling nuclear weapons into the United States, though this was still in the context of a battle between the superpowers of the Cold War. Congressmen quizzed the "father of the atomic bomb," J. Robert Oppenheimer, about the possibility of detecting a smuggled atomic bomb: Sen. Millikin: We... have mine-detecting devices, which are rather effective... I was wondering if anything of that kind might be available to use as a defense against that particular type of use of atomic bombs. Dr. Oppenheimer: If you hired me to walk through the cellars of Washington to see whether there were atomic bombs, I think my most important tool would be a screwdriver to open the crates and look. I think that just walking by, swinging a little gadget would not give me the information. This sparked further work on the question of smuggled atomic devices during the 1950s. Discussions of non-state nuclear terrorism among experts go back at least to the 1970s. In 1975 The Economist warned that "You can make a bomb with a few pounds of plutonium....
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