Global Security Newswire
Daily News on Nuclear, Biological & Chemical Weapons, Terrorism and Related Issues
Lax Security Seen at Yemeni Atomic Site
Yemen's primary cache of radioactive materials is poorly secured and vulnerable to seizure by militants, a leaked U.S. State Department cable from earlier this year quoted a high-level Yemeni official as saying (see GSN, Dec. 9).
The Yemeni source urged U.S. diplomats to take action aimed at bolstering protective measures at Yemen's National Atomic Energy Commission facility, according to the classified January 9 communication sent by the U.S. Embassy in the Yemeni capital to the CIA, FBI and Homeland Security Department. The site houses radiation-emitting agents employed in medical treatments, farming studies and oil extraction, the London Guardian quoted the document as saying.
The facility's only security guard had been pulled from his position, and the site's security camera had not been repaired since it ceased to operate six months earlier, the official told U.S. officials.
"Very little now stands between the bad guys and Yemen's nuclear material," the source said.
The "worried" official said Washington should work on persuading Yemen "to remove all materials from the country until they can be better secured, or immediately improve security measures at the NAEC facility," according to the State Department communication.
The cable's "comment" section stated: "Post will continue to push senior ROYG (Republic of Yemen government) officials to increase security at all National Atomic Energy Commission facilities and provide us with a detailed accounting of all radioactive materials in the country."
Yemen serves as the base for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the organization believed to have trained a Nigerian-born man who attempted to detonate a bomb last year on a passenger jet landing in Detroit (see GSN, Sept. 10). The group in October attempted to mail explosives-laden packages to Chicago-based Jewish synagogues (see GSN, Nov. 3).
Specialists have expressed concern that radioactive materials of the type stored at the Yemeni atomic facility could be dispersed in a radiological "dirty bomb."
"Holy cow. That's a big source," Matthew Bunn, a principal investigator at Harvard University’s Project on Managing the Atom, said upon learning of the quantity and kind of materials held at the facility.
"If dispersed by terrorists it could make a very nasty dirty bomb capable of contaminating a wide area," Bunn said. Such a weapon could "make a mess that would cost tens of billions of dollars in cleanup costs and economic disruption, with all sorts of controversy over how clean is clean, how will people go back there," he said.
"It's the type of thing that the U.S. program have been working on securing all over the world. The Global Threat Reduction Initiative in the Department of Energy has two missions: one, to get rid of enriched uranium and two, to improve security on radioactive facilities so that dirty bombs cannot be used," he added.
"The location in Yemen is obviously of particular concern given terrorism, given al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula headquartered there, also the spotty effectiveness of the government," Bunn said. "I would think it would be a high priority to do something about it."
While a State Department spokesman refused to address the leaked cable specifically, he said "a team from the U.S. Department of Energy visited Yemen in February and continues to work with the government on security upgrades at relevant sites as part of its global threat reduction initiative."
A National Nuclear Security Administration spokesman refused to elaborate on the cable's content "I am not going to comment on upgrades to any specific sites. I can say that we have programs to cooperate with more than 100 countries around the world to secure vulnerable nuclear material, improve security at nuclear facilities, and prevent nuclear smuggling. We are working day and night to prevent terrorists from acquiring nuclear material, no matter the source" (Karen McVeigh, London Guardian, Dec. 19).
Nov. 19, 2012
This is the first in a series of four non-papers from the Global Dialogue on Nuclear Security Priorities, where leading government officials, international experts and nuclear security practitioners are engaging in a collaborative process to build consensus about the need for a strengthened global nuclear security system, how it would look and what actions would be needed at the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit and beyond.
Nov. 19, 2012
Four non-papers are the collaborative output of the Global Dialogue on Nuclear Security Priorities to date. Convened by NTI, the Global Dialogue is an international, cross-sector dialogue among leading officials, experts, and practitioners on priorities and actions needed to strengthen the global nuclear security system to prevent nuclear materials from getting into the wrong hands.