NTI’s Rohlfing Discusses Nuclear, Radiological Threats on Capitol Hill

NTI President Joan Rohlfing and terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman, director of the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University, warned on Friday that increasingly capable terrorists around the globe are intent on acquiring and using weapons of mass destruction. They said much more needs to be done to properly secure vulnerable nuclear and radiological materials that could be used to build devastating bombs.

The pair spoke Friday at a Capitol Hill panel discussion hosted by the bi-partisan Congressional Nuclear Security Working Group. Congressmen Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), Pete Visclosky (D-IN), and Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN), all members of the group, spoke about the need for greater understanding of nuclear threats. Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., also attended the discussion, which drew a standing room-only crowd of Hill staffers and nuclear security experts.

Rohlfing called the nuclear threat “the greatest existential threat that nobody has ever heard of” and said the lack of public awareness of nuclear and radiological threats is “troubling."

Her presentation included an outline of two strategies for helping to reduce the risk that terrorists will steal or buy on the black market enough material to build a nuclear weapon. The first: reducing and eliminating the amount of fissile material worldwide; second: where it remains, securing it to the best standards possible.

She cited progress over the course of four Nuclear Security Summits but said there is still no effective global system or set of standards in place to keep the materials secure.

Turning to the threat posed by radiological materials, such as Cesium-137 which is used in hospital blood irradiators, Rohlfing held up a small vial of white powder to illustrate how little material would be needed to build a radiological “dirty bomb.” Rohlfing said NTI has been working with officials in Atlanta, New York and California to remove cesium sources from hospitals and replace it with safe, alternative technologies.

“This ought to be a nationwide initiative,” she said, “and this is where Congress can play a role.”

March 17, 2017
Mimi Hall
Mimi Hall

Senior Director for Content

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