CONTACT: Craig Kapitan, News Service (650) 724-5708;
COMMENT: Dr. Steven M. Block, Department of Biological Sciences and
the Department of Applied Physics
scientist compares impact of World Trade Center attack to a nuclear
Stanford Professor Steven Block, an expert on national security and
terrorism, spoke with the press Tuesday to answer technical questions
surrounding the World Trade Center disaster.
According to his “back–of-an-envelope calculation,” a
fully-laden Boeing 767 or 757 jet aircraft would have the impact of
approximately one kiloton of TNT when running into the side of a building.
That is equal to roughly 1/20th of the energy in the atomic bomb dropped
“It’s a staggering amount of energy,” Block said. “The
simple calculation shows that any aircraft fully fueled is essentially
a giant flying bomb.”
Although the World Trade Center was designed to withstand “amazing
kinds of forces” and even an aircraft collision, architects may
not have taken into consideration the enormous amount of heat a plane
loaded with enough fuel to fly across the country would generate. The
intense heat could have melted the buildings’ cores, allowing for
the collapses, he suggested.
“You don’t design buildings to withstand nuclear attacks,” he said of
the collapse. “Next to an atomic weapon, this is the most [energy] that
you can pack in one punch.”
Block, a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and the
Department of Applied Physics, is also a senior fellow at Stanford’s
Institute for International Studies. He also consults for JASON, a group
of primarily academic scientists that consults for the U.S. government
and its agencies on technical matters relating to national security.
The combination of a “kamikaze aircraft on the one hand and a hijacked
aircraft on the other” is a totally new terrorist method, he said.
“When you combine the two, you really are talking about a new
terror-weapon,” he explained. “We’ve seen that it can be an equipment
of great devastation.”
The possibility of a terrorist mounting an attack of this scale does
not come as a total shock, he said. It is very hard to thwart a terrorist
who is “bold, determined and willing to give up his life.”
Politicians and citizens will now have to decide how much of their civil
liberties they want to forgo – if any -- in order to ward off future
attacks, Block speculated.
“Most indications are these type of terrorist events are ramping
up,” he said. “What we’re witnessing here is a truly
extraordinary event that we hope doesn’t become an ordinary event
in coming years.”
-By CRAIG KAPITAN-