HLSS 212 Week 8 Forum Post

Based upon your comprehensive understanding of course readings and videos, choose a specific agent (CBRN) that you learned about in the course. Discuss the technical aspects of the specific agent, discuss your opinion (supported by course material) on the future threats using such an agent, and discuss possible prevention methods to diminish the risk or threat of an attack.

The specific agent that I believe we are most at risk for attack from currently is a nuclear warhead attack. Unfortunately the political climate currently is very tenuous and North Korea is threatening to strike mainland US with such a weapon. There is not specific first-hand information we know that Pyongyang has conducted six nuclear tests in total, beginning in 2006. With each test, its nuclear weapons have grown in power. The 2006 test involved a plutonium-fueled atomic bomb with a yield equivalent to 2 kilotons of TNT. The explosion from the most recent test, carried out September 3, measured 140 kilotons—making it roughly 10 times as strong as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima at the end of World War II. At present, North Korea is believed to have anywhere between 25 and 60 nuclear weapons, based on U.S. intelligence assessments and analysis from independent experts. Kim’s regime is also said to have developed a miniaturized nuclear warhead capable of being fitted on an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The larger question is whether the regime has acquired the technology that would allow such a weapon to reach the U.S. mainland. For an ICBM to successfully make that journey, it would need to fly in an arc, up into space, before traveling back down to Earth and hitting its target. It’s still an open question whether North Korea has developed a warhead capable of surviving re-entry into the atmosphere. North Korea is already thought to have medium-range missiles capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to South Korea or Japan. In an addition to the nuclear test it conducted in early September, North Korea has conducted 15 missile tests in 2017, a record number. Its ballistic missile program has made big leaps over the past year, and North Korea is now believed to have an intermediate-range missile that could reach as far as the U.S. territory of Guam. Moreover, in July, the regime tested an ICBM—called Hwasong-14—that could reach the mainland U.S. In total, Pyongyang is thought to have as many of 1,000 missiles of varying ranges, according to the Council on Foreign Relations (Haltiwanger, J., 2017).

According to the CDC, A nuclear blast, produced by explosion of a nuclear bomb (sometimes called a nuclear detonation), involves the joining or splitting of atoms (called fusion and fission) to produce an intense pulse or wave of heat, light, air pressure, and radiation. The bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, at the end of World War II produced nuclear blasts. When a nuclear device is exploded, a large fireball is created. Everything inside of this fireball vaporizes, including soil and water, and is carried upwards. This creates the mushroom cloud that we associate with a nuclear blast, detonation, or explosion. Radioactive material from the nuclear device mixes with the vaporized material in the mushroom cloud. As this vaporized radioactive material cools, it becomes condensed and forms particles, such as dust. The condensed radioactive material then falls back to the earth; this is what is known as fallout. Because fallout is in the form of particles, it can be carried long distances on wind currents and end up miles from the site of the explosion. Fallout is radioactive and can cause contamination of anything on which it lands, including food and water supplies. The effects on a person from a nuclear blast will depend on the size of the bomb and the distance the person is from the explosion. However, a nuclear blast would likely cause great destruction, death, and injury, and have a wide area of impact. In a nuclear blast, injury or death may occur as a result of the blast itself or as a result of debris thrown from the blast. People may experience moderate to severe skin burns, depending on their distance from the blast site. Those who look directly at the blast could experience eye damage ranging from temporary blindness to severe burns on the retina. Individuals near the blast site would be exposed to high levels of radiation and could develop symptoms of radiation sickness (called acute radiation syndrome, or ARS). While severe burns would appear in minutes, other health effects might take days or weeks to appear. These effects range from mild, such as skin reddening, to severe effects such as cancer and death, depending on the amount of radiation absorbed by the body (the dose), the type of radiation, the route of exposure, and the length of time of the exposure. People may experience two types of exposure from radioactive materials from a nuclear blast: external exposure and internal exposure. External exposure would occur when people were exposed to radiation outside of their bodies from the blast or its fallout. Internal exposure would occur when people ate food or breathed air that was contaminated with radioactive fallout. Both internal and external exposure from fallout could occur miles away from the blast site. Exposure to very large doses of external radiation may cause death within a few days or months. External exposure to lower doses of radiation and internal exposure from breathing or eating food contaminated with radioactive fallout may lead to an increased risk of developing cancer and other health effects (“Frequently Asked Questions About a Nuclear Blast”, 2014).

In order for the US to defend against nuclear attack, preparation is key. The president would have only 12 minutes to make the decision regarding the launch of U.S. ICBMs if he wanted to exercise a launch-under-attack option (“50 Facts About U.S. Nuclear Weapons Today”, 2016). the US has picked up the pace and urgency of ballistic missile defense despite major flaws in existing systems and tactics (Lockie, A., 2017). There are about 12 operational Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines maintained by the U.S. Navy capable of launching ICBM’s in an attack situation and more than 90 nuclear-capable heavy bombers. There are currently no forward-deployed nuclear weapons in the Pacific region as the last were withdrawn in 1991 (“50 Facts About U.S. Nuclear Weapons Today”, 2016). According to Mauroni, “There has been significant discussion regarding federal and state preparedness for nuclear terrorism within the United States. This is a very broad and complex public policy issue. The efforts of federal agencies provide a sense of the framework and capacity of the US government to prevent, protect, respond, and recover given the scenario of a terrorist group’s use of an improvised nuclear device. There are numerous federal programs supporting prevention and protection actions, with somewhat lesser development of response and recovery actions. However, it remains difficult to assess whether these actions are adequate or if more needs to be done, because the overall metrics for success have not been determined. A public policy approach to evaluating preparations for a nuclear terrorist event is required to allow decision makers to evaluate and better implement these efforts.” (2012). I suspect that reducing the provocation that is quickly becoming a hobby of our current President would go a long way in reducing our risk of attack. Interesting in how a “tweet” could cause a devastating attack. I’m sure no one ever thought that would be the case.


50 Facts About U.S. Nuclear Weapons Today. (2016, December 30). Retrieved November 23, 2017, from https://www.brookings.edu/research/50-facts-about-u-s-nuclear-weapons-today/

Frequently Asked Questions About a Nuclear Blast. (2014, October 17). Retrieved November 23, 2017, from https://emergency.cdc.gov/radiation/nuclearfaq.asp

Haltiwanger, J. (2017, November 22). What kind of bombs does North Korea have? A guide to Kim Jong Un’s nuclear weapons. Retrieved November 23, 2017, from http://www.newsweek.com/north-korea-guide-kim-jong-un-nuclear-weapons-718980

Lockie, A. (2017, July 20). Here’s how a North Korean nuclear attack on the US would play out. Retrieved November 23, 2017, from http://www.businessinsider.com/how-north-korea-would-attack-the-us-2017-7

Mauroni, Al. “Nuclear Terrorism: Are We Prepared?.” Homeland Security Affairs 8, Article 9 (June 2012). https://www.hsaj.org/articles/222

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