NTI Last Best Chance
About the Threat About the Film About NTI

Discussion Guide

THE FILM FAQ SUGGESTED DISCUSSION QUESTIONS WHAT CAN
YOU DO?
LEARN MORE ABOUT NTI

 

Thank you for screening Last Best Chance.

The Nuclear Threat Initiative produced this film to draw attention to the threat of nuclear terrorism and the urgent need to accelerate efforts to prevent it.

You are joining thousands of others around the globe who have taken an interest in this topic by ordering a copy of the film and by participating in screenings. This discussion guide is meant to help stimulate a post-viewing dialogue and illuminate the film's key points:

  • The film's scenario could happen, however it is not inevitable.
  • While there has been important progress in locking down weapons and materials, much more needs to be done.
  • Nuclear terrorism is preventable. We know how to secure nuclear materials.  A global effort is needed to lock them down.

 

Thank you again for watching the film and sharing it with others.  We appreciate your joining our efforts and welcome your continued support.

                                                   — NTI

[print this page]

The Film

Last Best Chance is based on facts. Some events depicted may have already happened. Some events depicted may have already happened. Some may be happening now. All may happen in the future if we don't act now to prevent them.

Starring Fred Dalton Thompson (Law & Order, Cape Fear, The Hunt for Red October ) as President of the United States, Last Best Chance is a wake-up call to secure and destroy nuclear weapons and materials around the world before it's too late.

In the 45-minute docudrama, al Qaeda operatives organize separate operations aimed at getting nuclear weapons. The material is then made into three crude nuclear weapons. Governments around the world discover clues to the plot and race to try and stop the terrorists.

Background

  • Plutonium and highly enriched uranium are nuclear materials that can be used to make a nuclear weapon.  Both materials are also present around the world, such as in civilian power plants or nuclear research facilities. 
  • We know that terrorists are trying to acquire nuclear weapons.  The 9/11 Commission reports that Al Qaeda has been seeking nuclear weapons for the last ten years.
  • Designing and manufacturing a nuclear weapon is not simple, but acquring nuclear materials – highly enriched uranium or plutonium -- it is the easiest part of the process.
  • Governments around the world must accelerate their efforts to secure or destroy nuclear weapons materials to keep them out of terrorist hands.  It is the least expensive, most effective way to prevent nuclear terrorism.

 

Frequently Asked Questions about Last Best Chance

1) How realistic is the scenario in this movie. Is nuclear material really that vulnerable? 

The scenario in the film is based on fact.  The security of nuclear material varies by location, and in some places security is inadequate.  There are more than 100 research reactors or related facilities worldwide with enough highly enriched uranium to potentially build a bomb and even more facilities that use plutonium.

We need to lock down nuclear weapons and materials around the globe to a high standard.  In the film, there were some security measures in place, but they were defeated because the terrorists were successful in recruiting insiders with knowledge of security procedures to help them steal enough material to make a nuclear bomb.  This is a plausible scenario, and one that we must do more to prevent.

2) Is it really so simple to acquire materials to make a bomb?

It could be. Highly enriched uranium is hard to make, but may not be so hard to steal. This raw material of nuclear terrorism is housed in hundreds of facilities in dozens of countries – some of it secured by nothing more than an underpaid guard and a chain link fence.

Security experts warn that a simple gun-type nuclear bomb could be built with an amount of highly enriched uranium you could fit in a lunchbox. With this relatively small amount, a terrorist could build a 10-kiloton bomb – nearly as powerful as the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.

3) Couldn't we prevent a nuclear weapon from coming into the United States by putting radiation detectors and increased security at our borders?

It's unlikely. Even if governments screened every container coming across their borders with a radiation detector, containers with lead to shield the weapon could get through and there are many ways to avoid customs.  In addition, a nuclear weapon emits very little radiation. 

Homeland security must begin abroad. The most effective way to prevent nuclear terrorism is by locking down global supplies of highly enriched uranium and plutonium at their source.  Every subsequent step is easier for the terrorists to take and harder for us to stop.

4) What has been done to reduce nuclear dangers?

Important progress has been made, including work under the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program in Russia and the former Soviet Union states.  For example:

  • For the last ten years, the U.S. and Russia have been working together to recycle weapons-grade uranium from 10,000 dismantled Russian nuclear warheads into fuel used by American power plants to produce electricity.  Today just about half of America's nuclear power is generated by fuel derived from Russian nuclear warheads. 
  • Ninety percent of Russian navy sites with nuclear materials have had cooperative security upgrades;
  • Thousands of nuclear weapons experts are now gainfully employed in peaceful enterprises, reducing the risk that they would sell their knowledge to a rogue nation or terrorist organization.

 

However, we need to dramatically accelerate these types of efforts to secure nuclear materials and safeguard nuclear knowledge.  For example, the first round of U.S.-funded cooperative security upgrades has been completed for about 50 percent of the nuclear material in Russia. But the remaining material, more than 300 tons, is enough for more than 10,000 nuclear weapons. If we continue at the current pace, it will take more than 13 years to complete this work.

5) What has to happen to get nuclear materials around the world secured or destroyed?

Governments must develop a plan and schedule for completing the removal of weapons usable material from vulnerable locations. Governments around the world need to make this their top security priority until the job is finished.

We need to remove bureaucratic roadblocks, implement a faster timeframe and allocate additional funds. In addition, a strong "security culture," at nuclear facilities must be established – so that every employee understands and accepts his role in preventing theft or diversion of nuclear weapons or materials.  Even perfect security technology may not be enough to prevent nuclear terror.

All countries with nuclear weapons usable material need to fully comprehend their vulnerability and take steps to reduce the human factor in insecurity.  It's also important to decrease the number of personnel with access to weapons, materials and information.

6) In the film, the American President worries that if the terrorists detonate a nuclear weapon, the Russians could think they are under attack and launch a response.  Is that realistic?  Aren't there controls in place to prevent this kind of accident?  After all, it never happened even at the height of the Cold War.

Today, with the Cold War behind us, the chances of a premeditated, deliberate nuclear attack have fallen dramatically. But the chances of a mistaken, accidental or unauthorized nuclear attack have increased. In Russia, aging nuclear forces combined with an early warning system in serious disrepair could increase risks of an accidental launch based on false warning of an attack. Moreover, there are greater risks today than during the Cold War of a breakdown in Russian command and control over nuclear forces, or the deliberate seizure of nuclear arms by rogue elements, increasing the risks of an unauthorized nuclear launch. In short: America's depending on the accuracy of Russia's warning systems and its command and control - an absurd situation for both nations.

7) In the film, the terrorists use several sources to try to get a bomb.  Is there really evidence that al Qaeda is seeking nuclear weapons?

The bipartisan 9/11 Commission reported that al Qaeda has been trying to acquire nuclear weapons for ten years and cited reports that bin Laden wants to carry out a "Hiroshima."

8) In the film, the terrorists got some of the nuclear material for a bomb from Belarus and South Africa.  Why do these countries have nuclear weapons materials?

Some of nuclear material shown in the film is housed at civilian research facilities; it is used for scientific research and can have peaceful applications, such as for making nuclear medicines.  However, this highly enriched material can also be used to construct a nuclear weapon.  We must increase the physical security of this material; in some cases this could mean removing or destroying it. Converting research facilities that use highly enriched uranium to run on low enriched uranium, which could allow scientific research to continue without a proliferation risk, is critical to reduce the risk of nuclear terrorism.

9) In the film, the box containing the bomb is screened by what looks like a radiation detector at the Canadian border.  Why didn't it find the bomb?

The container with the bomb is lined with lead that blocks the radiation from reaching the detector.  The only way to find this device would be to open the containers, which, given the large amount of cargo shipped, flown or trucked around the world every day, would bring international commerce to a standstill.

10) How much expertise is needed to manufacture a bomb?  Would a large operation be required?

Once a terrorist organization has the nuclear material, it could recruit a handful of individuals with enough knowledge to manufacture a simple nuclear device that would inflict catastrophic damage and kill hundreds of thousands of people.


Suggested Discussion Questions

  • Is nuclear terrorism preventable?
  • What can individual citizens do about this threat?
  • If you were a policymaker, how would you allocate resources to prevent nuclear terrorism?
  • Should we be concerned about Iran and North Korea having nuclear weapons?  How do these threats compare to the nuclear terrorism threat?  Are they related?
  • How do we convince all countries that have highly enriched uranium or plutonium that they need to do more to secure it or destroy it to prevent it from falling into terrorist hands? 
  • What is the greatest global security threat?

 

What Can You Do?

We must lock down nuclear weapons and materials, and the public can help by getting involved.

Get your friends involved.  We need more people to know about nuclear dangers and to take action.  Order a copy of Last Best Chance at www.lastbestchance.org and host a screening with family, friends and colleagues and then pass the DVD along to others to host their own screenings.

Demand action from your government.  Write to your elected officials and tell them to accelerate efforts to keep nuclear weapons and materials out of terrorists hands.  Attend a town meeting and ask them what they are doing to reduce these dangers.  Send a letter to the editor to keep the threat in the newspapers.

Sign up for NTI action alerts and subscribe to the Global Security Newswire for daily summaries of the global news on nuclear terrorism.

Finally, you can make a financial contribution to NTI.  Your gift will support our direct action projects that are reducing nuclear and biological dangers such as taking highly enriched uranium like the material you saw in the film and blending it down so it can't ever be used in a nuclear weapon.  Give online now at www.nti.org/donate


Learn More

Last Best Chance
www.lastbestchance.org

Nuclear Threat Initiative
www.nti.org

9/11 Public Discourse Project
www.9-11pdp.org

Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
John F. Kennedy School of Government
Harvard University
www.bcsia.ksg.harvard.edu

Center for Nonproliferation Studies
Monterey Institute of International Studies
www.cns.miis.edu

Center for International Security and Cooperation
Stanford Institute for International Studies
www.cisac.stanford.edu

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace 
www.carnegieendowment.org

 

About NTI

NTI brings together people with different views around a common mission to take immediate action to reduce the threats from nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. NTI combines its voice with direct action projects to catalyze more effective action by governments, international organizations and other private organizations.

For example, NTI took direct action to address the threat from unsecured nuclear materials by supporting the removal of two and one half bombs worth of at-risk highly enriched uranium from the Vinca research reactor near Belgrade, Yugoslavia.

 

NTI

1747 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Seventh Floor
Washington, DC  20006
202/296-4810, phone
202/296-4811, fax

www.nti.org

 

 

   
arrow

Send Me the DVD
Click here
to request a free DVD.

arrow

Donate
Click here to support NTI's work to keep weapons and materials secure

arrow

Get Involved
Click here to NTI News