Sandia LabNews

Nonproliferation experts helping foreign governments lock up dirty-bomb ingredients

Nonproliferation experts helping foreign governments lock up dirty-bomb ingredients

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Sandia nonproliferation experts are working with NNSA and other DOE laboratories and the governments of four foreign countries to help locate, repackage, move, and secure large quantities of medical and industrial radioactive materials that currently are stored in facilities that offer little protection.

The goal is to lock up radiation sources that could become the ingredients of a terrorist dirty bomb.

Efforts are under way in Lithuania, Greece, Russia, and Tanzania. Similar projects in other countries are expected to begin this year. The project is funded through NNSA’s Radiological Threat Reduction Program.

"The safekeeping around some large radiation sources in some countries isn’t up to the standards we are used to in the United States," says Bill Rhodes, Manager of International Physical Protection Program 6952. "The goal is to go to the source where a terrorist group might try to steal radioactive material and try to help secure that material."

Protocols for tracking shipments of radioactive materials also can be less rigorous than they are in the US, he says. In Lithuania, for instance, where many government records have been misplaced or removed in the transition from the former Soviet government, large radiation sources that have been lost in the shuffle are being found and accounted for before being locked up.

"We give guidance; they implement their own rules and regulations," Bill says.

Recommendations include physical security devices, like video motion detection and sensors, he says, or they can focus on revision of administrative procedures and standards for the storage, transport, tracking, and inventory of materials.

A scoping team first traveled to Lithuania in June 2003 to meet with officials of the Lithuanian Radiation Protection Centre (RPC) and other agencies at the invitation of Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, who asked for assistance in a letter to US Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham.

The visit team included Ioanna Illiopulos (NNSA), Tom Coulter (Coulter and Associates), Michael Hasse (Aquila Technologies Group, Inc.), and Rhodes.

Never intended as secure sites

The Lithuanians identified 300 sites they thought contained large quantities of radioactive materials, then culled the list down to 25 high-priority sites where radiation sources needed to be located and secured first. Included in the list were several hospitals where 5,000- to 6,000-curie cobalt-60 sources had been used.

"As hospitals they were never intended to be high security areas," says Bill.

Former Soviet military bases, industrial processing sites, and one nuclear waste repository were also included.

Teams of Sandians, including Dan Lowe (6952), Keith Young (6952) and Scottie Walker (6952) have returned several times to advise the Lithuanian government and oversee security upgrades at some facilities, and to repackage and transport some sources to more secure locations. In addition, surplus Sandia radiation-measurement equipment has been donated to the Lithuanian government.

"Basically they needed modern diagnostic equipment to accomplish the objectives of the project," Bill says. "They did not have enough equipment for the RPC to monitor the whole country."

Lithuania was the first of four governments Sandia is now working with.

Sandia personnel also have participated in visits to Tanzania and Greece, where contracts for security upgrades were negotiated. Fred Harper (4117) and Paul McConnell (6142) also provided training to Greek officials in preparation for the 2004 Summer Olympic Games.

Future projects include work in Russia, Egypt, and additional countries of the Former Soviet Union.