Sandia LabNews

How Sandians helped keep radioactive materials from terrorists at Olympics


How Sandians helped keep radioactive materials from terrorists at Olympics

Radiological device from Greece

With the excitement of the August summer Olympics in Athens a memory, Sandians who helped make the two-week event safe are now telling about their involvement.

“We maintained a low profile but were involved for at least a year in advance,” says Bill Rhodes, Manager of International Physical Protection Program Dept. 6952.

His team was responsible for assisting Greek officials in developing ways to protect radioactive sources. The fear was that terrorists could access them and turn them into dirty bombs, possibly to be dispersed at the Olympics.

Nearly a year before the Olympics in the summer of 2003, officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Greek Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC) contacted the NNSA seeking assistance in securing radioactive sources in areas where the Olympics were to be held. NNSA turned to Sandia, which has worked with several countries to assess the vulnerability of radioactive materials and help design physical security upgrades.
Bill, together with a representative of NNSA, traveled to Greece, visiting two major areas — Athens and Thesselonki.

“In Greece, like in most countries, much of the radioactive materials are found in hospitals,” Bill says. “As a result we visited several hospitals and studied various types of equipment.”

In one hospital he saw a blood irradiator that looked like “half a telephone booth.” It was used to make blood safe for transfusions. While it weighed a lot, the irradiator could be stolen, Bill says. Another medical facility had a unit that used cobalt to sterilize medical supplies.

In these instances and several others, primarily at oncology and hematology clinics, he noted actions that could be taken to protect the radiological materials from theft.

Upon his return to the US, Bill assembled a team to assist in the design of physical upgrades. Fred Harper (4117) and Paul McConnell (6143) were tapped to train Greek personnel on how to safeguard materials. Others — Mark Bishop (5934), Michelle Kent (6951), Dan Lowe, Keith Young (6962), Scottie Walker, and Gene Hauser (both 6952) — were responsible for assisting in the actual design of physical upgrades. Amy Ellington (10257) was the procurement specialist.

“The team went to Greece and provided technical support,” Bill says. “We worked with contractors there who actually did the work, like installing sensors and alarm systems."

In Greece the Sandians reviewed facilities operations — including administrative procedures for source storage, transport, and tracking of radioactive materials — and recommended a number of procedural changes to improve total system effectiveness. Among their recommendations was a comprehensive physical security upgrade at sites that included the installation of sensors and videos systems to detect intrusion. They also recommended that high-security locks be installed at doors to limit access and new security alarms be coordinated with local law enforcement.

The Sandians worked with the Greek contractors as peers. “We taught them about physical security and they taught us about their country,” he says.
While the Olympics are over, Keith remains in contact with the GAEC and currently has a contract to continue to study security system performance issues and to do a “lessons learned” assessment for the Olympics project.

In working with the Greek government to secure radiological devices, Bill and his team were performing Dept. 6952’s mission — protecting weapon-usable nuclear material worldwide against theft and misuse. Besides Greece, Sandia has worked in Lithuania, Russia, Greece, Tanzania, Iraq, Egypt, and Jordan on radiological threat reduction activities.