BRUSSELS -- European officials conducted a simulation showing how Al Qaeda could kill 40,000 people and plunge the continent into chaos if a crude nuclear device were detonated outside NATO headquarters here.
''We are in a race between cooperation and catastrophe," said former senator Sam Nunn, who helped organize the exercise, dubbed Black Dawn. ''To win this race, we have to achieve cooperation on a scale we've never seen or attempted before."
Nunn, a Democrat from Georgia, spoke to reporters yesterday, a day after the closed-door war games attended by top officials including the European Union's security chief, Javier Solana, and his new counterterrorism chief, Gijs de Vries.
In the first part of the scenario, European officials were asked how they would respond to intelligence that Al Qaeda had obtained enough highly enriched uranium to build a nuclear bomb.
In the second, they were confronted with computer projections and video displays illustrating the impact of terrorists exploding the device at NATO's headquarters on the outskirts of Brussels, immediately killing 40,000 people, overwhelming hospitals with hundreds of thousands of injured, spreading panic through Europe, and plunging the world economy into turmoil.
''Once you are in this phase, there are no good options," said Michele Flournoy, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who helped prepare the exercise.
More than 50 people from 15 countries and a dozen international organizations attended the exercise, mostly EU ambassadors but also civilian and military officials from NATO, the International Atomic Energy Agency, Interpol, and other bodies.