World leaders meeting in The Hague this week took time off from Ukraine Tuesday, March 26, to play a computer game that was even less amusing: “Nukes on the loose” had President Barack Obama, China’s Xi Jinping, British premier David Cameron and Chancellor Angela Merkel among others testing their responses to a simulation of an imminent threat of unnamed terrorists stealing nuclear material from an unidentified country and assembling a dirty bomb for unleashing against a Western city.
Actors played out the simulated threat in short films prepared for the game. The players were told the dirty bomb could go off in the “City of London, Wall Street, Milan or anywhere,” according to the London Telegraph.
One of the films showed terrorists building a dirty bomb in a secret laboratory. When the work is finished, an announcer tells the players ominously that it is ready and capable of bringing sudden death to hundreds of thousands of people. The leaders were then required to state on the spot how they would respond – each pushing one of four buttons on his/her computer tablet. Should they warn the public or keep them in the dark? Should they decide alone how to handle the threat or work with other countries?
Their choices were then presented anonymously on a big screen.
It turned out that in the end, the world leaders – caught this time without advisers at their elbows – successfully averted the peril by a fast, collective effort.
The game was designed by American nuclear experts as a scare tactic “to make them think seriously about the security of their nuclear materials.”
Obama used the occasion to say he is far more worried about the possibility of a nuclear weapon exploding in New York City than he is about Russia. The German chancellor grumbled that the world’s leaders had more urgent business to attend to than playing games.
Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was speaking in real time on March 10 when he commented in Eilat, against the background of an Iranian consignment of Syrian-made rockets for terrorists being unloaded from the Klos C: “Tomorrow Iran will hide nuclear suitcases.”
Obama’s nuclear game was therefore played out against a pretty grim scenario, taking into account that global security and the world’s international financial centers may suddenly find themselves at the mercy of the unpredictable. Today’s airwaves are already filled with the clamor raised by Russia’s invasion of Crimea and the scary enigma of the vanished Malaysian airliner with 239 people aboard.
The nuclear game was held at the nuclear security summit taking place this week in the Netherlands and attended by 53 countries.
Ahead of the summit, Denis Flory, deputy director of the international Atomic Energy Agency, said 140 cases of missing or unauthorized use of nuclear and radioactive materials had been reported to the agency in 2013. Most concerned small quantities of radioactive material, he said, but "even if they can't be used for making a nuclear weapon, they can be used in radioactive dispersal devices, which is a concern” because al Qaeda-style terrorists could try to use them to make a crude nuclear device or a so-called "dirty bomb", experts say.
In a "dirty bomb", conventional explosives are used to disperse radiation from a radioactive source, which can be found in hospitals, factories or other places that may not be very well protected.