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Radiological Terrorism in the Context of Nonproliferation

R. V. Arutyunyan and V. P. Bilashenko

IBRAE

Fundamental opportunities exist for creating radiological weapons, or “dirty bombs,” that, if they were used, would result in radioactive contamination of territory that could be accompanied by high radiation doses that would lead to human disease and death, as well as to the inability to operate in the contaminated territory.

In the beginning of the third millennium, terrorism, which is characterized by unpredictability, by a variety of forms, and by the high degree of danger that it poses to society, became one of the most serious global security threats. Terrorism adapts to the new conditions that are shaped by the process of globalization. Radiological terrorism (RT) occupies a special place among the different varieties of technical terrorism. In contrast to terrorist acts that are committed through explosions, arson, or the use of poisonous gas, RT can lead to radioactive contamination that presents a source of long-term exposure of humans to radiation. Even in situations in which low-activity radioactive substances are dispersed, radioactive contamination can still be registered over long distances, affecting massive numbers of people who find themselves in an environment that they perceive as dangerous for their own health and for the health of their loved ones.

Studies of ways in which contemporary societies react to the “radioactivity factor” demonstrate that considerable negative effects on socioeconomics, public psychology, and social stability (in particular, in large cities) begin in the presence of much lower levels of radioactive contamination than those at which real (material) damage to human health occurs. For instance, the level of radiological contamination that leads to an additional exposure of 1 to 10 millisieverts (mSv) per year is subjectively perceived by the general public as dangerous.

Studies conducted by Russian and American scientists demonstrate that various RT scenarios in large cities are capable of resulting in tremendous economic losses for the city, and maybe for the entire nation. The recent 177-page report from the U.S. State Department, Patterns of Global Terrorism 2001, calls 2001 the bloodiest in the last decade. A total of 3,547 people died at the hands of terrorists. No one on this planet has the luxury to stand by and not take part in fighting this evil. Many observers noted the friendly tone that the U.S. State Department’s report took with respect to Russia.

Cooperation between Moscow and Washington in the area of combating terrorism took unprecedented and invaluable dimensions in a number of aspects, such as political, economic, law enforcement, intelligence, and military.

At the same time, common problems and issues that require additional study remain.

We would like to point out just a few of them, which could be regarded as possible areas of joint research. These are described in the sections that follow.

PRIORITIZING POTENTIAL HAZARDS AND RESPONSE MEASURES

Selection of common criteria for prioritizing potential hazards and response measures should be selected, and specialized computer software that could provide scientific and technical expertise for an optimized response to the acts of radiological terror should be developed.

For example, our evaluations and assessments of the possible damage that an aircraft ram attack against one of the spent nuclear fuel storage facilities at Andreeva Bay, where spent fuel from disposed nuclear submarines is kept, showed that the attack could lead to radioactive contamination of a large industrial center (the city of Murmansk). Under certain weather conditions, radioactivity could also spread across the border and affect parts of Scandinavia (Norway). However, such a scenario is very unlikely in comparison with the likelihood of the theft of spent nuclear fuel. As for the actual act of theft of one or more fuel assemblies, it can be committed, for example, at the time of a preplanned, full-fledged inventory tally and at the time of certification of fuel assemblies at storage facilities. The amount of highly active spent



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OCR for page 91
Strengthening U.S.-Russian Cooperation on Nuclear Nonproliferation: Recommendations for Action L Radiological Terrorism in the Context of Nonproliferation R. V. Arutyunyan and V. P. Bilashenko IBRAE Fundamental opportunities exist for creating radiological weapons, or “dirty bombs,” that, if they were used, would result in radioactive contamination of territory that could be accompanied by high radiation doses that would lead to human disease and death, as well as to the inability to operate in the contaminated territory. In the beginning of the third millennium, terrorism, which is characterized by unpredictability, by a variety of forms, and by the high degree of danger that it poses to society, became one of the most serious global security threats. Terrorism adapts to the new conditions that are shaped by the process of globalization. Radiological terrorism (RT) occupies a special place among the different varieties of technical terrorism. In contrast to terrorist acts that are committed through explosions, arson, or the use of poisonous gas, RT can lead to radioactive contamination that presents a source of long-term exposure of humans to radiation. Even in situations in which low-activity radioactive substances are dispersed, radioactive contamination can still be registered over long distances, affecting massive numbers of people who find themselves in an environment that they perceive as dangerous for their own health and for the health of their loved ones. Studies of ways in which contemporary societies react to the “radioactivity factor” demonstrate that considerable negative effects on socioeconomics, public psychology, and social stability (in particular, in large cities) begin in the presence of much lower levels of radioactive contamination than those at which real (material) damage to human health occurs. For instance, the level of radiological contamination that leads to an additional exposure of 1 to 10 millisieverts (mSv) per year is subjectively perceived by the general public as dangerous. Studies conducted by Russian and American scientists demonstrate that various RT scenarios in large cities are capable of resulting in tremendous economic losses for the city, and maybe for the entire nation. The recent 177-page report from the U.S. State Department, Patterns of Global Terrorism 2001, calls 2001 the bloodiest in the last decade. A total of 3,547 people died at the hands of terrorists. No one on this planet has the luxury to stand by and not take part in fighting this evil. Many observers noted the friendly tone that the U.S. State Department’s report took with respect to Russia. Cooperation between Moscow and Washington in the area of combating terrorism took unprecedented and invaluable dimensions in a number of aspects, such as political, economic, law enforcement, intelligence, and military. At the same time, common problems and issues that require additional study remain. We would like to point out just a few of them, which could be regarded as possible areas of joint research. These are described in the sections that follow. PRIORITIZING POTENTIAL HAZARDS AND RESPONSE MEASURES Selection of common criteria for prioritizing potential hazards and response measures should be selected, and specialized computer software that could provide scientific and technical expertise for an optimized response to the acts of radiological terror should be developed. For example, our evaluations and assessments of the possible damage that an aircraft ram attack against one of the spent nuclear fuel storage facilities at Andreeva Bay, where spent fuel from disposed nuclear submarines is kept, showed that the attack could lead to radioactive contamination of a large industrial center (the city of Murmansk). Under certain weather conditions, radioactivity could also spread across the border and affect parts of Scandinavia (Norway). However, such a scenario is very unlikely in comparison with the likelihood of the theft of spent nuclear fuel. As for the actual act of theft of one or more fuel assemblies, it can be committed, for example, at the time of a preplanned, full-fledged inventory tally and at the time of certification of fuel assemblies at storage facilities. The amount of highly active spent

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Strengthening U.S.-Russian Cooperation on Nuclear Nonproliferation: Recommendations for Action nuclear fuel in one assembly is sufficient for use in several “dirty bombs.” EXAGGERATED PERCEPTION OF RADIOLOGICAL HAZARD An exaggerated perception of radiological hazard is characteristic of laypersons who are afraid of radiation. But a fact of no lesser importance is that the same inadequate perception of radiological danger is also characteristic of most decision makers at all levels of the legislative and executive branches. The magnitude of response and the efforts required to alleviate the effects of radiation in contaminated areas will depend on the actual levels of radioactive contamination, as well as on the choice of criteria for defining an “acceptable” radiological risk. On the basis of past experience gained from nuclear accidents, one can conclude that local authorities, acting under pressure from politicians, set acceptable contamination levels on the basis of the everyday situation rather than on levels that may be appropriate in the context of either a radiological cleanup or a recovery phase. For instance, in 1986 in Goanna, Brazil (during the loss of an unaccounted medical radiological source), response measures, such as defining evacuation zones and close monitoring zones, were based on exposures that were 10 times lower than the lowest acceptable radiation accident levels set by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Similar situations took place after the Chernobyl accident. One could forecast that after an act of radiological terrorism, decision making by various authorities will be dictated by enormous political and popular pressures, as well as by the desire to avoid drawing parallels between the actual event and past nuclear power plant accidents. MEASURES THAT SHAPE ADEQUATE PUBLIC PERCEPTION To make the public’s response to an act of radiological terror more measured, as well as lower the effect of socially multiplied factors of risk, one needs to keep in mind the fact that public perception is shaped at two parallel levels: at the level of perception of the decision makers and at the level of perception of the general public. The mass media plays an important role in linking these two. Mass media needs to work with the decision makers. The mass media can increase public anxiety over the attack. It is also the fastest and the most efficient way of spreading official information on protective measures. In the context of radiological threat, we look beyond the mere recognition by a journalist of his or her social responsibilities. It is necessary to prepare in advance specialized sources of information on such science-intensive subjects as radiological terror and to engage in a conscious effort to get journalists familiar with them. It is necessary to create a strategy for informing the public of a radiological terrorist attack and to conduct joint training with emergency managers and journalists based on procedures established for a joint effort to inform the public. MEDICAL CARE The medical community, to which people will turn for information and advice, plays a major role in shaping public perception. It will be necessary to establish large-scale dose metering and medical evaluation capabilities for the exposed victims, as well as for the responders. Later, prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation will take place. Individuals who have been exposed to radiation will be in need of periodic clinical examinations that need to be conducted by highly qualified doctors. General practitioners are the ones who enjoy most people’s trust when it comes to questions related to the effects of radiation. Today, however, most general practitioners are not much different from the majority of the general population in terms of their perception of the “radiological hazard.” It is necessary to continuously educate general practitioners on the issues of medical radiology. Dozens or hundreds of people may require specialized medical help, which will include psychological rehabilitation. The victims should also be included in an epidemiological radiology registry, and a reconstruction of their exposure must take place. It is extremely important that, at the stage of mass examination, doctors should understand the specific psychological condition of the exposed, as well as their common behavioral patterns, and that they can provide mental counseling to those who were exposed, as well as to those who were not directly exposed but who are anxious. PROTECTIVE MEASURES The necessity of work on protective measures that either prevent or lower the levels of human exposure. These measures may include Isolating the source of the attack and creating additional protective barriers around it that would limit migration of the radionuclides in the environment; Limiting the duration of contact of the population to the radioactive source (i.e., limiting access, shelter, evacuation, and relocation); Setting and observing strict limits regulating additional exposure; The use of hygienic measures and pharmaceuticals (sanitary treatment, limiting the consumption of contaminated food, etc.); and Protective measures for various environments (deactivation, water safety measures, etc.). The effectiveness of these protective measures varies, as do their efficiencies and social effects.

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Strengthening U.S.-Russian Cooperation on Nuclear Nonproliferation: Recommendations for Action RADIOLOGICAL MONITORING The system of radiological monitoring in large cities today does not provide a capability for the timely detection of factors that contribute to an increase in the amount of radioactive pollution. For example, today the city of Moscow has about 150 posts for automated control over radiological conditions (detectors of the Automated System for Control of Radiation [ASCRC]). When it is considered that the city covers an area of 1,081 km2, one could estimate that, on average, one post “oversees” an area of about 7 km2, or an area with a radius of about 1.5 km. Besides, it seems necessary to equip certain areas of the underground Metropolitan Transportation System with dosimeters that would allow the timely detection of radioactive substances in subway cars and inside passenger transfer points. It is also necessary to work on new methods for calculating, modeling, and measuring radioactive contamination under conditions mostly characteristic of large cities. AREAS FOR ADDITIONAL WORK Work on countering radiological terrorism needs to continue in two directions: (1) strengthening control over the possible movements of radioactive sources, particularly in places for the mass assembly of people and critical city sites, and (2) working on methods of real-time radiological intelligence gathering and airborne geomagnetic photography in cities in case of a terrorist act. In this way, an adequate evaluation of the situation can be made and optimal protective measures can be taken in the interests of the city’s population. WATER SAFETY Many scenarios of radiological terrorism indicate potential problems with countermeasures for water safety. Under the extremely stringent rules that apply to the radionuclides in drinking water today, metric control of possible contamination may be required, additional water purification measures may be necessary, etc. HUMAN RESOURCES Current difficulties in the area of human resources are caused, on the one hand, by the absence of comprehensive educational programs that would prepare adequate human resources, and, on the other hand, by issues that are tightly linked to financing of continuous education programs for those professionals who need to attend such specialized courses. The Russian Federation has gained experience in professional programs through work within the framework of the system of government inventory control of radioactive substances and radioactive waste. Core courses should cover Inventory control over radioactive substances and radioactive waste; Physical protection of radioactive materials and of their storage areas; Safe transportation of radioactive substances; and Special software applications for inventory control over radioactive substances and radioactive waste; In the area of cooperation on the issue of radiological terrorism, it is also necessary to point out certain obstacles and difficulties, which, if they are overcome, will help to achieve more adequate understanding of the issues. In particular, one needs to note the necessity of a unified methodological approach to the issue as a pledge for fruitful joint work in the future. REGULATORY IMMPROVEMENTS Applicable legal acts, rules, and regulations in the area of inventory control and the physical protection of radioactive substances, as well as working on special documents that discuss issues of possible external threats and their repercussions in handling radioactive substances, need to be improved. These should create more obstacles for the illegal acquisition of radiological materials, elevate the level of physical protection of the radiological substances that are in circulation, and facilitate their timely transfer to specialized organizations. IMPROVE INFORMATION EXCHANGE Shortcomings in the database structures that store information on radioactive sources in circulation in the inventory databases do not allow tight control or the exchange of either scientific or operational information. This is particularly true of sources of radiation that are accessed easily, like those used in medicine, geological exploration, and production. Some countries lose and never recover tens and hundreds of such sources every year. Countries of the former USSR do stand out as examples. UNIFY PERMISSION AND LICENSING PROCEDURES The procedures for obtaining permissions and licenses for enterprises and research organizations that use radioactive substances and other sources of radiation in their work should be unified. Approaches to keeping appropriate information about these organizations should also be unified.

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Strengthening U.S.-Russian Cooperation on Nuclear Nonproliferation: Recommendations for Action EVALUATION OF RADIOLOGICAL HAZARDS The system of evaluating radiological hazards is controversial, overly tight, and, in many cases, scientifically unsound. The system in some instances may become an objective basis for an inadequate response to radiation factors. Despite the absence of direct evidence that small doses of radiation are dangerous for humans (doses of less than 100 mSv of acute irradiation), even exposure at the level of natural background variations (up to 1 mSv per year) is believed to be marginally acceptable in terms of additional human exposure from human sources under normal circumstances, according to many guidelines that are issued by the international scientific organizations, as well as those approved by the legislatures of some countries, including Russia. (In Russia, the level of exposure that warrants intervention is set at 0.3 mSv per year of the additional detected local radioactive pollution.) SCIENTIFIC COOPERATION Scientific cooperation in the area of combating radiological terrorism is a sensitive subject; certain limitations exist on both sides. The establishment of formal relationships while designating clear procedures is necessary. Nuclear specialists who up to recent times participated in scientific and technical cooperation based their efforts on two agreements: the 1990 Agreement (with the Ministry of Atomic Energy acting as the executive on the Russian side) and the 1993 Agreement (Ministry of Science acting as actionee on the Russian side). Both agreements have expired. It would be helpful if there were prepared and signed government agreements similar to the 1999 agreement between the governments of Russia and the United States on cooperation in the area of inventory control and physical protection of nuclear materials. BILATERAL U.S.-RUSSIA COMMISSION It is advisable to establish a bilateral U.S.-Russia commission on combating radiological terrorism (analogous to the former Russian-American Commission on Economic and Technical Cooperation) that could be cochaired by representatives of both countries. Attention on the part of high-level political leaders is important for the successful implementation of cooperative agreements. This commission, depending on the actual agreements with the agencies that are involved in international cooperation in the area of nuclear nonproliferation, could help to coordinate activities and set priorities, as well as select projects and report on their implementation. Moreover, while current cooperation in the area of nuclear nonproliferation is based on the U.S.-Russia interagency agreements that were reached after the Umbrella Agreement between Russia and the United States was signed as part of the Cooperative Threat Reduction program, there are no such agreements in the area of combating radiological terrorism. There is no doubt that with the appropriate coordination of efforts at the intergovernmental level this cooperation could become even more efficient.