What do you believe the chance of Manhattan getting nuked in the next 10 years is?

This is a poll, not a Great Debate. I am interested in your personal risk estimate for Manhattan being hit with some type of nuclear weapon in the next 10 years. Gut feelings and detailed dissertations are equally welcome.

The nuclear weapons include:

  1. Dirty Bombs - conventional explosives used to spread nuclear material and contaminate an area. May cost billions to clean up and render an area uninhabitable for years. Low immediate death toll. Fairly easy to make.
  2. Suitcase nukes - smaller nuclear weapons that are fairly easy to transport. Can obliterate several square blocks.
  3. Big league nukes - ICBM’s etc. Only a few countries have these. Likely to result in MAD.

Here are the chances I give each during the next ten years:

  1. Dirty bomb - 75%
  2. Suitcase Nuke - 33%
  3. Larger Nukes - 3%

What are your personal estimates?

Gut feeling.
I’ll go with small chance for any.

  1. Dirty bomb - 1% by definition, aren’t these the easiest to detect?
  2. Suitcase Nuke - 12.5% Scary; by boat, by plane, by car, by truck or assembled on-site.
  3. Larger Nukes - .001% Just can’t see it. Too many ways to stop, risk vs reward seems low for group/country attempting.
    As I said, gut only.


What can I say? I’m an optimist.

Dont see why. You can keep the nuclear material and the explosives separate until you get ready to use it. Thus the nuclear material can be hidden just as easily as a suitcase bomb.

I don’t know a whole lot about this, but I think you may be overestimating how much damage these bombs would do.

While dirty bombs probably not lead directly to a large loss of human life, the cleanup toll would be extremly expensive and disruptive indeed.

From here:

"Q: In The Economist Magazine (6/15/02, p. 28), it was stated that for a dirty bomb “decontamination … from a few to dozens of city blocks … poses the greatest challenge.” Demolition and the effect on business could run into “hundreds of billions of dollars.” Do you agree? If a dirty bomb caused an increased level of radiation in a city, would it be necessary to evacuate and demolish the area?

Also, is there a Web site you recommend for guidance on dealing with a dirty bomb or other radiation risk? Thank you.


A: Factoring in the costs of demolition and reconstruction, I would not be surprised if the costs could soar to hundreds of billions of dollars, especially if the real estate is in Manhattan, for example. Depending on the radiation level that remains after decontamination efforts were attempted, it may be necessary to evacuate the area.

From what little I do know.
Suitcase Bombs requires a small pea to marble size weapons grade radioactive core which could be shields in a lead lined container for transport & storage.

I thought a dirty bomb required large amounts of radioactive waste material and would be far harder to store and ship, undiscovered.
I don’t know much about the construction of a dirty bomb, but if it is what I think it is would be hard to collect the material and get it into the city.
Again, from what little I have gathered, radiation detectors are set up in many if not most entryways into the city.

Don’t forget the earthquake risks.

My cite–


I think the risk was much more substantial back when he was a moderator. Nowadays I doubt he’s particularly likely to even get pitted.

I’ve seen recently a lot of media coverage on this topic where they interview so called “experts” who say it’s not ‘if’ but ‘when’.
I view these with some skepticism for a couple reasons.

  1. These media outlets will seek out the most alarmist of these “experts” for a more dramatic story. No one wants to watch the moderately concerned expert. They want the guy that’s saying “run,hide,now”.

  2. Extermist terrorists have been around for decades. 9-11 happened nearly four years ago. It begs the question “well, what are they waiting for?”.
    The answer as I’ve heard it is that it’s actually more difficult to pull off than it apppears. Finding volunteers, finding volunteers without being found out, planning, planning without being found out, organizing, organizing without being found out, must somehow be an obstacle to these fellows. If not, you’d think we’d be getting hit on a monthly basis.

  3. I don’t believe terroist acts follow the “earthquake” line of reasoning as they’d have you believe. Whereas earthquakes slowly build and build and are more severe when they hit if it’s been a long time since the last one, terroists don’t really operate this way. Alarmists want you to think “well, it’s been four years since the last hit. So the next time it’s really going to be big. And if it’s not for another 2 years it’s going to be even bigger.” I don’t think theres any proof of this theory.

I was just thinking about this last night. I agree with 1 and 2. I don’t think 3 is a possibility at the moment. Though, things can change in a hurry.

Nil. If I thought there was any chance, I’d be verrry stupid to be living here.

  1. Dirty bomb - 1%
  2. Suitcase Nuke - 1%
  3. Larger Nukes - < 0.1%

I think the odds of NY being hit are fairly small… BUT the odds of some USA city being hit are (imo) fairly high, more along 50% in the next decade. NY is the center of attention because of 9/11 and all the financial markets there. Thus seemingly making it the most likely target, but it also has the best security (after DC of course).

Any terrorist with an ounce of forethought will see how much it hurt our economy to put into place all the security measures after 9/11. Secondary targets are ripe for the plucking. LA, Dallas, Boston, etc. all make much easier targets to sneak a weapon into. And the resulting fear, panic, and economic disruption over the long term will hurt us nearly as bad as loosing NY.

So actually I think that living in NY is safer than living in any other major city. So I think you’re safe Barbarian.

I love your argument, really well thought out. Manhattan being an Island is easier to secure. You’ve convince me at least, I’ll lower my Suitcase Bomb prediction from 12.5% to 1.25%.

People seriously think there’s a chance worth talking about that a nuke will go off in the US in the next decade? Weird.

[li]Dirty bomb - 10%[/li][li]Suitcase nuke - <0.01%[/li][li]Larger nuke - 5%[/li][/ol]My reasoning is as follows:

Radioactive garbage is much more easy to come by than fissile material, but to make a big enough mess to be worthwhile you need quite a lot of it, and it needs to be exploded at the location you actually want to hurt. Various anti-terrorism measures have a good to very good chance of finding these prior to detonation, so while terrorists may want to do this they will have a hard time following thorugh.

Man-portable nuclear devices do, apparently, exist, but are extremely hard to make, and only the U.S. and (former) U.S.S.R. are known to have made them. While they may be the Holy Grail of terrorism, they are also amongst the most closely-guarded items on the planet. There were some reports that Russia had lost track of a number of them, but given the fact that Tel Aviv, New York and a number of other places have not experienced an attack with one argues against the reality of such reports.

I do think there is a significant risk of a Fat Man or Little Boy sized bomb coming into NY harbor on a ship and causing tremendous damage. The technology for first generation weapons is 60 years old and is well within the capabilities of many nations and groups. All that is lacking is the fissile material, and the safeguards around stocks of these materials leave much to be desired. And searching every merchant ship coming into a major harbor is very unlikely, at least until after the first attack happens.


Not going to happen. Particularly large scale nukes. Do you know what’s involved in getting an armed missle or a plane with a bomb on it that many miles?

Those other things. . .where’d they come up with that shit?

A “dirty bomb”? Come on. Has one EVER been detonated ANYWHERE? Do these even exist outside of media speculation?

The OP thinks there’s a 75% chance of one going off in New York in the next 10 years?

Can I please be your insurance salesman?

Get real.

Only time will tell and I hope that I am wrong. I worked with enough radioactive waste in grad school to make a rather small one. I assume that thousands of others do too with little or no secuirty.

OTOH, assigning a zero probability to things that clearly possible must have meant you slept through that stats class.

You guys are assuming that the terrorists want to nuke the U.S. While I agree they probably would like to have the CAPABILITY to nuke the U.S., what strategic interests of their would be served by nuking us, given the likely response by us?

During the next ten years:

  1. Dirty bomb - 20%: If we are talking about dynamite tied to a hospital cesium canister that kills a guy in the blast and scares the crap out of a few hundred people and maybe 60 people spend their lives knowing they have a slightly higher chance of cancer. OTOH If you mean blowing up some major tonnage of radioactive waste that sickens 100’s and causes billions in property damage, I think the odds are much lower, under 5%.

  2. Suitcase Nuke - less than 1% because JohnM nails it – there is really no such for sure thing outside of the U.S.- (possibly but not certainly ) the USSR arsenals. Besides being virtually impossible to attain, if they were used they would be easily traced

  3. Larger Nukes - 3%

Beyond the technical hurdles of maintaining one and setting it off properly, The problems associated with a) attaining it b) smuggling it out of wherever, c) into the U.S. without any World intelligence agency getting wind of it seems remote to me. Then moving it into postion within the U.S., still undetected. The most likely Terrorists with the contacts to pull it all off - esp. the attaining part- (the Chechens) don’t seem the most likely to target NYC.