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

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
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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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