Nuclear Terrorism Expert Answers Viewers' Questions

In response to ABC News' investigative series on the threat of a nuclear attack, some viewers had questions about the nation's preparedness and what to do in the event of an attack.

Below are answers to some of the questions from nuclear terrorism expert Graham T. Allison. Allison is a professor of government at Harvard University and the director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. During the first term of the Clinton administration, Allison served as assistant secretary of defense for Policy and Plans, where he coordinated Department of Defense strategy and policy toward states of the former Soviet Union.

Question 1. Kim asks: Why would you do a report that includes information to help terrorists find the "holes" in our nuclear waste security? I believe it is dangerous, if not poor journalism, to do this. I realize that you are trying to make all aware of the dangers; however, I believe you could have done this without showing on video the "holes" for terrorists to see.

John says: I find it very disturbing that you would take it upon yourselves to broadcast the shortcomings our country's security concerning nuclear weapons. This should have been an issue between you and the government, going public should have been a last-ditch effort after all else has failed.

Answer: The troubling question is whether such reports could give terrorists ideas and clues for attacks. The nightmare for everyone in the national security debate is that communication aimed at awakening fellow Americans to risks inadvertently inspires or informs murderers.

The media has struggled to strike the right balance. In this case, ABC went the extra mile and offered U.S. government officials an opportunity to review its videotapes before going public -- not to allow censorship of its reports, but rather to give authorities a chance to correct vulnerabilities prior to broadcast. Most declined.

To his credit, the head of Nuclear Security for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission not only reviewed the tapes but acted upon them, ordering immediate changes at sites that posed the greatest danger.

Question 2. CWS writes: The manner in which you have positioned this story and the "Loose Nukes" series sounds like this is inevitable, as if it will happen within the next few weeks. Are you trying to scare the public? Do you have information that needs to be shared? Why is this story coming out now? This is truly a terrifying scenario. What would be the U.S. response to such an attack?

Answer: The threat of loose nuclear materials from Russia, and al Qaeda's expressed interest in obtaining nuclear weapons has been a deep concern for national security experts for 15 years.

The U.S. response would depend on several factors: How many Americans were killed, whether the U.S. could identify the culprits behind the attack, and whether nuclear scientists could identify the source of the fissile material used to make the bomb to a foreign government. But after such a catastrophe, our government would have no good options -- only bad and worse. Thus, the premium is on prevention now.

Question 3. Howard in California asks: The advent of a terrorist sponsored nuclear attack, I believe, is an obsessive and imminent objective of al Qaeda. Why haven't I heard anything from my state and local governments on their preparedness and procedures that I should know about both before and after the event?

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