Global Security Newswire
Daily News on Nuclear, Biological & Chemical Weapons, Terrorism and Related Issues
Authorities Drill at MIT for "Dirty Bomb" Material Theft
Federal, state and local agencies yesterday responded to a simulated attempt by extremists to seize radioactive cobalt from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for use in a radiological "dirty bomb," the Boston Globe reported (see GSN, Aug. 11).
The FBI and Energy Department coordinated the unpublicized exercise, which involved medical and fire personnel as well as state, city and campus police. The effort was part of the "Silent Thunder" series of drills, which focuses on responses by multiple levels of government to threats involving chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons.
Government sources refused to discuss difficulties that might have emerged in the drill, which addressed possible means of preventing would-be thieves from obtaining dirty-bomb ingredients as well as potential government responses to an attack involving radiological material or a different type of unconventional weapon.
"Exercises of this type are valuable tools for enhancing coordination among the various organizations involved in response management," MIT Nuclear Reactor Laboratory head David Moncton said.
"The purpose of these exercises is to get all the key players together around a table to practice going through the kind of crisis management and emergency response scenarios that could come up in a real world emergency, to make sure we get the kinks worked out in advance," National Nuclear Security Administration spokesman Damien LaVera said of the drill. "It helps communities think through all the contingencies they would need to be prepared for, in the event of a real attack."
The Energy Department has pursued initiatives aimed at stepping up safeguards at numerous facilities around Boston housing radioactive materials for medical or research use. Upgrades to protective measures were under way at MIT -- the university maintains multiple blood irradiation facilities and, for now, one of the few remaining U.S. atomic reactors running on weapon-grade uranium -- as well as five other sites in the region, officials said without specifying the other institutions involved.
"Boston has a concentration of major research universities," Deputy Energy Undersecretary Steven Aoki said. "We are trying to make sure in a very complicated area that everyone has some awareness of what the relationships and roles and responsibilities are" of various groups that would respond to an incident, he said.
The upgrades, underwritten by the Energy Department's Global Threat Reduction Initiative, include biometric identification systems, security cameras, motion sensors and mechanisms for informing government agencies of the theft of radioactive material. The Energy Department initiative is expected to receive $300 million in fiscal 2011 for security efforts inside the country.
As of last month, the United States had bolstered safeguards at only 131 of more than 2,100 sites holding potentially at-risk radioactive substances. Enhancements were expected at the remaining facilities by 2019.
"It is important to not focus solely on attacks from outside terrorists attempting to penetrate and steal material," Kenneth Sheely, an Energy Department associate assistant deputy administrator, told lawmakers in 2009. "The possibility and probability of a passive insider, (such as) one who simply arranges access to the facility for the adversary, or an active insider, one who participates in the theft, diversion, or sabotage of radiological material, is greater, given the open environment of a university campus or city hospital in which many radiological devices are used" (Bryan Bender, Boston Globe, Aug. 20).
May 28, 2013
Joan Rohlfing calls on Congress to pass legislation that would complete the ratification of two critical international treaties designed to protect against nuclear terrorism.
March 25, 2013
This collection examines civilian HEU reduction and elimination efforts. It discusses why the continued widespread use, internationally, of HEU in the civilian sector poses global security risks, provides an overview of progress to-date in reducing and eliminating the use of HEU in the civilian sector worldwide, and examines remaining challenges to achieving this goal. The collection also includes detailed analysis of progress in eight key countries.