U.S. Confirms Effort to Phase Out Selected ‘Dirty Bomb’ Materials

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President Obama attends the opening session of the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit on Monday in The Hague, Netherlands. At the summit, U.S. officials confirmed a new effort to phase out certain radiological materials that could be used in "dirty bomb."
National Journal
Douglas P. Guarino
March 24, 2014, 10:07 a.m.

U.S. of­fi­cials con­firmed on Monday that they will launch an ef­fort to help lim­it the pro­spect of “dirty bomb” at­tacks by work­ing to phase out cer­tain ra­di­olo­gic­al ma­ter­i­als.

“The United States in­tends to es­tab­lish an in­ter­na­tion­al re­search ef­fort on the feas­ib­il­ity of re­pla­cing high-activ­ity ra­di­olo­gic­al sources with non-iso­top­ic re­place­ment tech­no­lo­gies, with the goal of pro­du­cing a glob­al al­tern­at­ive by 2016,” states a U.S. “pro­gress re­port,” re­leased Monday at the Nuc­le­ar Se­cur­ity Sum­mit in the Neth­er­lands.

This uni­lat­er­al “house gift” that U.S. of­fi­cials offered at the bi­en­ni­al gath­er­ing of world lead­ers fol­lows calls from non­pro­lif­er­a­tion ad­voc­ates for the United States and United King­dom to lead an ef­fort that could en­able a glob­al phase-out of se­lec­ted ra­di­olo­gic­al ma­ter­i­als used in the med­ic­al field.

As Glob­al Se­cur­ity News­wire re­por­ted last week, a re­port from James Mar­tin Cen­ter for Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion Stud­ies sug­ges­ted that hos­pit­als and blood banks move away from the use of cesi­um chlor­ide. The ra­dio­act­ive sub­stance presently is used for ir­ra­di­at­ing blood pri­or to trans­fu­sion, in or­der to pre­vent a rare but leth­al com­plic­a­tion known as graft-versus-host dis­ease.

Paired with con­ven­tion­al ex­plos­ives, such sub­stances could po­ten­tially be dis­persed over a wide area in a dirty bomb at­tack, cre­at­ing dan­ger­ous con­tam­in­a­tion.

The re­port says blood could be ir­ra­di­ated in­stead with elec­tro­mag­net­ic ra­di­ation, such as X-rays or ul­tra­vi­olet light, or by lin­ear ac­cel­er­at­ors that many hos­pit­als already have on hand for can­cer treat­ments.

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