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Attention to portable nuclear devices (often referred to as "suitcase nukes") peaked in 1997-early 1998 following well-publicized allegations by the late governor of Krasnoyarsk Krai and former Russian Security Council Secretary, General (Ret.) Alexander Lebed, that an unknown number of these weapons (possibly as many as several dozen) could not be accounted for. These devices represent probably the greatest threat if they end up in the hands of terrorists due to the combination of small size and full-scale nuclear explosion effects. Interception of "suitcase bombs" is difficult along land borders and practically impossible along maritime borders. At the same time, the political, psychological, and economic effects of a blast from a portable nuclear weapon would be far greater than, for example, those of a "dirty bomb."
Only a nation with an extremely advanced nuclear program could manufacture warheads small enough to fit into a suitcase. Both the USA and the USSR manufactured nuclear weapons small enough to fit into large backpacks during the Cold War, but neither have ever made public the existence or development of weapons small enough to fit into a suitcase. The smallest nuclear warhead manufactured by the USA was the W-54, used for the Davy Crockett warhead which could be fired from a 120 mm recoilless rifle, and a backpack version called the Mk-54 SADM (Small Atomic Demolition Munition). While this warhead, with a weight of only 51 lb (23 kg), could potentially fit into a large suitcase, it would be a very tight fit. While the explosive power of the W-54 — up to an equivalent of 1 kiloton of TNT — is not much by the normal standards of a nuclear weapon (the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II were around 13 to 15 kilotons each), it could still do tremendous physical damage to a structure (it would be many, many times more powerful than the explosive attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in 1995, for example, with a yield of 0.002 kiloton).