At an international conference earlier this year, Secretary of Energy
Spencer Abraham pledged that the United States would assist other countries
- especially developing countries - in tracking, securing, and disposing
of radiological sources that could be used by terrorists in Radiological
Dispersal Devices, or "dirty bombs." Selections from Abraham's
remarks, made on March 11 at the International Atomic Energy Agency
(IAEA) conference on the Security of Radioactive Sources, are highlighted
below. Some paragraphs have been combined to save space. The full text
of Abraham's remarks can be found on the DOE web site at http://www.energy.gov/HQDocs/speeches/2003/marss/IAEAConference.html.
PURPOSE OF CONFERENCE:
"We are gathered here to deal with an important issue: the terrible
threat posed by those who would turn beneficial radioactive sources
into deadly weapons. The technical term for these weapons - Radiological
Dispersal Devices or RDDs - has not come into general use.... But increasingly
the public knows about these weapons, and they are deeply concerned.
They call RDDs, dirty bombs.'
"It is our critically important job to deny terrorists the radioactive
sources they need to construct such weapons. The threat requires a determined
and comprehensive international response. Our governments must act,
individually and collectively, to identify all the high-risk radioactive
sources that are being used and that have been abandoned. We must educate
our officials and the general populace, raising awareness of the existence
of these dangerous radioactive sources and the consequences of their
misuse. And we must account for and tightly secure these sources wherever
they may be."
AVAILABILITY OF RADIOACTIVE SOURCES:
"Radioactive sources can be found all over the world, and terrorists
are seeking to acquire them.... There is nothing they would like better
than to cause the panic that the detonation of a radiological dispersal
device would create. We know from experience with accidental releases
of radiological sources that they can cause widespread panic, economic
hardship, and significant health concerns."
"That's why our work is so important. It is our responsibility
to determine how to prevent such an attack in the first place, and how
we should respond if, despite our best efforts, such an attack were
to occur. All countries should act in their own self-interest by taking
the steps needed to better secure high-risk radioactive sources.
"My reason for suggesting the conference was in no small measure
because RDDs are different from what we are accustomed to in our more
traditional nuclear non-proliferation work. We are used to policing
a defined number of nuclear facilities. Our job has been to focus on
that small number of countries bent on violating the nuclear non-proliferation
norm and acquiring fissile materials for nuclear weapons. But the radiological
materials that could be used in an RDD exist in a variety of forms in
virtually every country in the world. And they are often loosely monitored
and secured, if at all."
BENEFITS OF RADIOACTIVE SOURCES:
"The use of radioactive sources is widespread. They have many
beneficial industrial, agricultural, research and medical applications.
In the medical field alone, roughly one hundred radioisotopes are used
in various nuclear medical research, diagnosis, sterilization, and teletherapy
applications. Millions of cancer patients have had their lives prolonged
due to radiotherapy treatments, and patients of all kinds have benefitted
from bacteria-free, sterile medical equipment made possible by irradiation
"Scientific research using radioactive materials takes place in
laboratories all over the world. Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators,
or RTGs, have been used for remote power application. Industrial gauges
containing radioactive sources are commonplace. Radiation is used to
increase the size and improve the health of crops, and remote beacons
stand sentinel for years thanks to radiation's energy.
"Despite the wide use of radioactive sources, only a small portion
of them poses a real threat as potential ingredients in an RDD. I called
for this Conference last September in order to raise awareness of those
radiological materials that have the greatest potential to result in
exposure, contamination, and mass disruption. Your presence here - almost
600 participants from well over 100 countries - is reassuring proof
of how seriously we all take the RDD threat.... [T]aking measures to
control dangerous is not just the responsibility of few nations, but
all nations. Each of us must act to create a seamless web of protection
and control of high-risk radioactive sources to prevent their malicious
use. Each of us must take on this significant responsibility."
STEPS BEING TAKEN BY THE U.S.:
"In the United States, we are evaluating potential vulnerabilities
in our control of these materials in order to strengthen our regulatory
infrastructure to better account for them, to track their use and disposition,
and to ensure appropriate protection during import and export. We are
also working to ensure that those using these radioactive sources are
authorized to do so and are using them for legitimate purposes. In determining
what additional protective measures might be needed, we are using a
graded approach that takes into account potential hazards and protective
measures already in place."
RADIOLOGICAL SECURITY PARTNERSHIP PROPOSAL:
"The United States believes that to solve the problems we will
discuss today, we must attack them in all their dimensions. That's why
I am pleased to announce today a new initiative that I hope will become
international in scale. The Radiological Security Partnership is a three-pronged
approach to addressing the potential threats from under-secured, high-risk
"The first prong is helping countries accelerate and expand national
initiatives to keep track of and better secure national inventories
of high-risk radioactive sources. In this regard, our new partnership
includes a new initiative to provide well over $1 million in technical
assistance and equipment to IAEA Member States to facilitate effective
tracking of high-risk sources.... Second, countries need to draw on
international resources that can give practical advice and assistance
in bringing these sources under control. The United States is currently
working with Russia and the IAEA to identify and secure high-risk radioactive
sources in the former Soviet Union, and we believe the time has come
to broaden that kind of cooperation.
"To do so, I am pleased to announce a new United States initiative
to expand this Tripartite' model to other countries in need of
assistance. It is my hope that this model, which is working so well
in the former Soviet Union, will become global in scale. The United
States will focus our resources where the need is greatest. Our emphasis
will be on developing countries. We are prepared to work with other
countries to locate, consolidate, secure, and dispose of high-risk,
orphan radiological sources by developing a system of national and regional
repositories to consolidate and securely store these sources. The international
efforts to choke off the illicit traffic in these sources must also
be given highest priority.... I recently initiated a new Department
of Energy project to improve our ability to detect nuclear materials
or weapons en route to the United States.
"As the third prong of our plan, I will now expand this project
by focusing on other major transit and shipping hubs, which will improve
our efforts to interdict and prevent illicit trafficking in high-risk
radioactive sources globally. I am also pleased to announce that next
week members of the United States Department of Energy will participate
with the IAEA in important consultations that will set technical specifications
for border monitoring equipment.... By working together on all these
dimensions of the threat, we have a chance to make rapid and significant
progress toward our shared objective of reducing the potential threats
from the highest risk sources.
"The Radiological Security Partnership is a United States priority.
To demonstrate our commitment, the United States plans to contribute
$3 million over the next year to support the Partnership. In particular,
this money will support our efforts to work with developing countries
to secure high-risk sources in their countries."
"I know many of you have also taken important steps, and we will
all benefit from your knowledge and experience as we each strive to
establish best practices and procedures' and come to grips with
the challenges presented by radiological sources. That is why this Conference
is important - it will help all of us to establish a framework for addressing
these issues, and taking the critical next steps to protect our citizens
and provide for our security.... It is my hope and expectation that,
as a result of our intensive and wide ranging discussions, we will reach
a consensus on steps that can be taken to ensure that the IAEA and other
resources are made available to all nations."
"We must all identify the high-risk radioactive sources in our
countries and ensure that they are under secure and regulated control.
We must determine the criteria we will use to identify the radioactive
sources that provide the greatest threat to security, so that nations
can establish effective regulatory infrastructures. We must assess the
security of our borders, and further improve our ability to prevent
the illicit transit of radiological sources. And we must know realistically
just how prepared we are to respond, in the case of an actual emergency
involving these sources."
"I hope that historians will someday write that our deliberations
signaled a turning point - that on March 11, 2003 we began to forge
an international consensus on the need to deal urgently and decisively
with the most dangerous and vulnerable radioactive source threats."