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Global Security Newswire

Daily News on Nuclear, Biological & Chemical Weapons, Terrorism and Related Issues

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U.S. Drills Against Radiological Strike

The FBI and National Nuclear Security Administration in a recent drill were faced with a hypothetical attempt by extremists to break into an atomic science site and acquire a radioactive substance suitable for use in a radiological "dirty bomb," the semiautonomous Energy Department agency said on Thursday (see GSN, Aug. 9).

Personnel involved in the "tabletop" program at the University of Cincinnati collaborated to deal with the scenario, accounting for information provided by on-site alert mechanisms, according to an NNSA press release. The drill involved no field operations.

The operation, dubbed "Bearcat Thunder," marked the 100th practice response conducted under the NNSA Weapons of Mass Destruction Counterterrorism Exercise Program, an initiative launched in 1999 that now incorporates Energy Department sites as well as medical and academic centers. 

The drill was one in a line of "Silent Thunder" scenarios acted out as a means of educating emergency personnel and officials at every level of government in handling a potential extremist strike incorporating radiological or nuclear substances. Washington, D.C. and 22 states have hosted the activities under NNSA and FBI auspices, and additional states are slated to do so.

Non-U.S. entities have taken part in the maneuvers, though the efforts have mainly taken place within U.S. borders. The Bearcat Thunder effort was the first in the series to include an International Atomic Energy Agency representative as a spectator.

“The president has stated that the greatest threat to global security is the danger of nuclear terrorism,” NNSA Deputy Undersecretary and Associate Administrator Steven Aoki said in a press release. “The Silent Thunder exercise program, developed and conducted in partnership by NNSA and the FBI, directly addresses this threat. We recognize that reducing the risk of radiological or nuclear terrorism requires a whole-of-community approach that brings together officials and responders from the federal, state, local and facility levels” (U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration release, Aug. 9).

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