WASHINGTON – A nuclear terrorist attack on the U.S. is better than an even bet in the next 10 years, says a former assistant secretary of defense and author of a book on the subject.

“Based on current trends, a nuclear terrorist attack on the United States is more likely than not in the decade ahead,” says Graham Allison, director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and author of “Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe.”

Allison, who has testified before Congress on the subject, says the illicit economy for narcotics and illegal alien trafficking “has built up a vast infrastructure that terrorists could exploit” in delivering a nuclear weapon to its target in the U.S.

Al-Qaida, which has threatened to launch an “American Hiroshima” attack on the U.S., remains Allison’s No. 1 suspect to pull off such a mission.

“Former CIA Director George J. Tenet wrote in his memoirs that al-Qaida’s leadership has remained ‘singularly focused on acquiring WMD’ – weapons of mass destruction – and willing to ‘pay whatever it would cost to get their hands on fissile material,'” Allison wrote in an opinion piece appearing in the Baltimore Sun prior to Independence Day.

Allison says there are several viable options open to terrorists determined to secure nuclear weapons.

“They could acquire an existing bomb from one of the nuclear weapons states or construct an elementary nuclear device from highly enriched uranium made by a state,” he wrote. “Theft of a warhead or material would not be easy, but attempted thefts in Russia and elsewhere are not uncommon.”

Allison says terrorists are capable of building their own nuclear weapons if they can simply secure the fissile material.

“Once a terrorist group acquires about 100 pounds of highly enriched uranium, it could conceivably use publicly available documents and items commercially obtainable in any technologically advanced country to construct a bomb such as the one dropped on Hiroshima,” he states.

The threat is imminent, says Allison.

“If terrorists bought or stole a nuclear weapon in good working condition, they could explode it today,” he explains. “If the weapon had a lock, detonation would be delayed for several days. If terrorists acquired 100 pounds of highly enriched uranium, they could have a working elementary nuclear bomb in less than a year.”

WND first broke the story of Osama bin Laden’s plans for a nuclear terrorist attack on multiple cities in the U.S.

President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and the 9/11 commission have all concluded a nuclear terrorist attack is not only the nation’s No. 1 nightmare but also something of an inevitability at some time in the future.

Earlier this year, WND reported how the most extensive study of the effects of nuclear detonations in four major U.S. cities paints a grim picture of millions of deaths, overwhelmed hospitals and loss of command-and-control capability by government.

But the three-year study by researchers at the Center for Mass Destruction Defense at the University of Georgia says a concerted effort to teach civilians what to do in the event of a nuclear attack is the best – perhaps only – thing that could save an untold number of lives that will otherwise be needlessly lost.

“If a nuclear detonation were to occur in a downtown area, the picture would be bleak there,” said Cham Dallas, director of the program and professor in the college of pharmacy. “But in urban areas farther from the detonation, there actually is quite a bit that we can do. In certain areas, it may be possible to turn the death rate from 90 percent in some burn populations to probably 20 or 30 percent – and those are very big differences – simply by being prepared well in advance.”

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