Conclusions and Recommendations: Reinforcing Russian Capabilities to Protect Ionizing Radiation Sources
THE INCREASING THREAT TO U.S. INTERESTS FROM INADEQUATELY CONTROLLED IRSs
As discussed in Chapter 1, the possible acquisition by terrorist groups of ionizing radiation sources (IRSs) that could provide the radioactive material for radiological dispersion devices (RDDs) is an increasing threat to U.S. interests and to global security. This form of radiological terrorism is of great concern at the highest levels of many governments, particularly the United States and other G-8 countries. A number of U.S. programs and programs supported by other governments and by international organizations to counter radiological terrorism are in place. However, many are in their early stages of development. As they mature, they will need strong support by governments and by the international community. The challenges in preventing detonations of RDDs are large and will persist for many years into the future.
Large numbers of inadequately protected IRSs are present in many countries, particularly IRSs for which there is no longer a need. For these unwanted IRSs, financially affordable disposal pathways often do not exist. Many IRSs are left unattended and unprotected, and they are easy prey for terrorist groups. Groups that have experience in assembling and detonating conventional bombs should be able to readily acquire the skill to handle radioactive material used in IRSs and incorporate such material in dirty bombs.
The disruption attendant to an RDD detonation could be widespread, particularly if it occurs outdoors in a densely populated urban area. The
number of radiation victims might not be great. However, the likelihood of psychological impacts of a radiological attack leading to widespread fear and social disruption would be high, and the economic costs of closing off and cleaning up contaminated areas would be very significant.
The committee concurs with the view of many experts who consider the possibility of a dirty bomb scenario in the not too distant future to be high (see Box 1-3). These apprehensions are supported by seizures in Europe of illegally obtained nuclear materials that have been linked to organized crime as well as by the discovery of crude drawings of dirty bombs in the possession of al Qaeda operatives. Thus, in addition to improving the security of IRSs on a broad basis, the United States and other countries should be prepared to respond to dirty bomb attacks through well-developed and tested consequence management plans. The number of inadequately protected IRSs is simply too large to secure all of them, at least in the near term.
From the U.S. perspective, the primary concern must of course be the prevention of detonation of one or more RDDs within the United States. In the first instance, preventive measures should focus on ensuring the security of currently inadequately controlled IRSs in the United States. The U.S. Department of Energy has mounted an aggressive program to find, collect, and secure these unwanted IRSs. At the same time, terrorist groups might try to smuggle IRSs or their radioactive components into the United States even though a variety of homeland security programs are in place to restrict penetration of U.S. borders.
A priority concern of the U.S. government also must be the possible targeting of dirty bombs at U.S. assets abroad—embassies, military bases, privately owned establishments, and other facilities. Disruption of activities and denial of access to contaminated areas at some of these facilities, particularly those that serve as transportation or communication hubs, could have profound security implications.
Detonation of a dirty bomb overseas, even distant from U.S. assets, would have significant political and economic repercussions throughout the world. Such an event might perturb international financial markets and raise questions about the effectiveness of international security alliances. Also, it could compel the United States and other countries to divert additional resources to enhancing protection of overseas investments and of their own homelands in recognition of new capabilities of terrorist organizations.
In the context of the foregoing global perspective on the likelihood and impact of dirty bomb scenarios, this report has focused on the security of IRSs in Russia. As indicated in Chapter 2, the inventory of IRSs in Russia is measured in the hundreds of thousands, including tens of thousands of particularly dangerous IRSs that should be under stringent
control. Unfortunately, the transition from a Soviet security system for IRSs that was effective in a closed society to a Russian security system that operates within a more open environment has been plagued by organizational, regulatory, and financial shortcomings that have stymied efforts to ensure adequate protection, control, and accounting of the large inventory of IRSs.
The task of securing even the most dangerous IRSs in Russia is daunting. For example, hundreds of radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) are located in the northern reaches of the country, and the logistics to recover those that are no longer needed or could be replaced with other energy sources are formidable. Criminals have already stripped the metal off some of these RTGs, indicating the vulnerability to theft of the radioactive components as well. In addition to the problem of securing RTGs, the committee observed security deficiencies in protecting other types of IRSs of concern; dangerous IRSs are located in hundreds of institutes, enterprises, hospitals, and other locations that are within reach of criminals. Also, the committee heard reports of unwanted IRSs frequently being discovered in abandoned facilities and open fields.
As underscored in Chapter 2, should IRSs be obtained by criminals or by terrorist groups in Russia, the impact on U.S. interests could be very serious. If an IRS from Russia or any other country enters the international black market, its final destination cannot be predicted. Perhaps it would not reach the United States. However, it could be used against targets of great importance to the United States—Russia itself, Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe, or elsewhere. Also, an RDD detonation would probably encourage copy-cat attacks in other regions, including the United States.
An RDD detonation in Russia could have additional ramifications for the United States. It could certainly discourage U.S. investors interested in commercial opportunities in oil and other important sectors in Russia. It could raise doubts in some quarters about the effectiveness of the Russian government as a partner in addressing nuclear terrorism issues in a number of countries where Russia has considerable influence. Finally, it could affect international views on the future of nuclear technologies, even under the stewardship of a nuclear state with decades of experience in handling dangerous technologies.
Thus, the United States has considerable interest in helping to ensure that the security of IRSs in Russia meets an international level of acceptability. Also, the committee believes that through cooperation in the field of consequence management, the U.S. government can learn important lessons for dealing with an RDD attack from past Russian experiences in responding to and managing the consequences of nuclear accidents and terrorism incidents that involved conventional weaponry. Both the
United States and Russia are on learning curves as to how to deal with the threat of radiological terrorism, and learning together can be an important complement to national efforts to address the threat.
CONTINUATION OF THE U.S.-RUSSIAN COOPERATIVE PROGRAM
The U.S.-Russian cooperative program for upgrading the security of IRSs in Russia began in 2003. DOE has made a very good start in helping Russia deal with the challenge of security enhancement within the framework of this program. Even with the limited funds available to date, this program is improving the security of IRSs in Russia. Also, DOE has gained considerable experience in developing and carrying out significant on-the-ground activities in Russia.
Linkages have been made with key Russian organizations. Important problems were selected for initial program “quick fixes”—improved regional and ministry inventories of IRSs, accelerated time lines to reduce the number of vulnerable RTGs, collection and disposal of unwanted IRSs, and enhanced security at Radon storage and disposal facilities. Initial projects in each of these areas have been successfully completed. Committed Russian partners seem ready to continue to move forward if they are provided with financial resources.
Of particular importance, the modest U.S. contributions to the cooperative program to date have helped focus Russian attention on critical aspects of the security of IRSs and have probably stimulated Russian efforts in addition to those associated with the cooperative program. Continued encouragement of the Russian government to address the security of IRSs more aggressively in these areas is important. Also, new opportunities have emerged for collaboration that builds on early successes.
Thus, the program of quick security fixes is very important and should be continued, and DOE leadership should expedite its implementation. All the while, DOE should evaluate the effectiveness of approaches that are being used and modify them, if appropriate, to help ensure that the greatest amount of threat reduction is being achieved for the money spent. Of particular concern to the committee is the end-of-life-cycle management of IRSs that are no longer wanted, including many that have been simply abandoned. Of course, counterpart Russian organizations should be involved in evaluation efforts as well as in planning and prioritizing future activities.
THE NEED FOR AN OVERALL PLAN FOR THE COOPERATIVE PROGRAM
The committee is deeply concerned about the continuing decline in DOE resources being allocated to the cooperative program. However, the committee is not in a position to recommend expansion of current activities or initiation of new activities in the absence of an overall DOE plan that clarifies how the cooperative program can be most effective in reducing risks attendant to inadequately protected IRSs. Thus, a primary recommendation of the committee is that DOE develop an overall plan to use resources that may become available in ways that will have the maximum impact on reducing the risks attendant to inadequately secured IRSs in Russia. This plan should indicate how U.S. resources can leverage larger resources of the Russian government and thereby become an important basis for budget requests to support the program. Of course, DOE should have a comprehensive plan for all of its relevant global efforts, and within this framework the plan for Russia should help determine the percentage of available resources to be allocated for the Russian program.
The plan for the cooperative program should be developed within the context of a comprehensive Russian program for ensuring adequate life-cycle management of IRSs throughout the country and should take into account activities of other external partners. However, such a comprehensive Russian program may take years to fully develop, and DOE should move forward promptly in working with Russian counterparts to develop a plan for the cooperative program that takes into account activities that are currently known to be under way in Russia. Clearly, the plan will need continued updating as a comprehensive Russian program evolves.
As discussed in Chapter 2, dozens of Russian federal ministries and organizations, hundreds of organizations at the district level, and thousands of organizations that are custodians of IRSs are involved in the protection, control, and accounting of IRSs. Ideally, these organizations should all work within a comprehensive Russian program of risk reduction. That program, as well as similar programs in other countries, should concentrate on the highest-risk deficiencies in the overall approach to security and direct the country’s financial resources to address these deficiencies in a manner that quickly improves life-cycle management of IRSs. A suggested framework for such a comprehensive program is set forth in Box 4-1. This framework does not include response and consequence management, which have not been included in the cooperative program to date, but clearly a well-developed Russian program in these fields is needed in recognition of the reality of past incidents in Russia involving IRSs and the possibility of future incidents.
Suggested Framework for a Comprehensive Russian Program to Protect IRSs and Other Radioactive Material
The table of contents of the Radiation Sources Protection and Security Task Force Report released by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (USNRC) in 2006 is set forth in Appendix F.1 It contains many important topics and should be of interest to the Russian government. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission could be very helpful to the Russian government
Radiation Source Protection and Security Task Force. 2006. The Radiation Source Protection and Security Task Force Report. Report to the President and the U.S. Congress Under Public Law 109-58, The Energy Policy Act of 2005. Washington, D.C. Available online at http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/congress-docs/correspondence/2006/president-08-15-2006.pdf. Accessed February 23, 2007.
in a number of the areas identified in Appendix F, and DOE should consider how the resources of the USNRC can be used in the cooperative program.
The committee recognizes that progress toward the development of a comprehensive Russian program will take time due in large measure to (1) decentralized responsibilities in Moscow and throughout the country for undertaking and financing many relevant activities; (2) chronic shortages of necessary funding either from the government or from the custodians of IRSs to correct security deficiencies; and (3) a legacy of security problems reflected in many inadequately protected IRSs, problems that are often attributable to organizations that no longer exist. Of course, a number of federal laws and regulations are already in place, and specialized activities at the federal level such as the operation of the Radon sites and the Izotop program to collect unwanted IRSs have been established. However, a comprehensive nationwide effort is still a long way off. Thus, the program should include activities to meet high-priority near-term objectives while also reflecting a vision of how best to address security threats in the long term. Once such a program is in place, the need for DOE to continue to invest significant resources in the cooperative program should diminish. However, cooperation in this field should extend indefinitely as both countries continue to learn from each other. Although DOE’s financial assistance should be phased out in due time, DOE should not have an exit strategy for cooperation because the threat of radiological terrorism will most likely persist for decades.
Of special relevance to the development of a comprehensive Russian program for addressing the security of IRSs is Rosatom’s approach in the area of “safety” of IRSs and radioactive waste. Rosatom has developed and regularly articulates a comprehensive overview of safety-related actions that are needed and are under way. According to Rosatom officials, this overview is very helpful in guiding the national effort.
These officials informed the committee that a comparable program strategy to help guide the approach to the “security” of IRSs has not been developed. This is due in part to the sensitivity of the topic. These officials assured the committee that Rosatom recognizes the importance of such a comprehensive approach to ensure adequate security of IRSs and is making progress in developing such an approach.
At the same time, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has broadened its program directed to IRSs from a focus on safety to a focus on both safety and security.2 The IAEA can of course have a signifi-
cant impact in Russia. Its activities can complement the efforts of DOE that provide considerable political emphasis and flexibility to the overall international effort. However, the IAEA has many competing priorities and limited funds; therefore DOE should continue to play a leadership role in Russia through its bilateral program.
DOE, working with the IAEA and other concerned governments, can have significant influence in encouraging the development and implementation of a comprehensive Russian program that emphasizes reduction of the most serious risks as soon as possible. The Russian government has made strong commitments at the summit meeting in Bratislava and elsewhere to counter radiological terrorism, and DOE leadership should continually refer to such presidential commitments in stressing the importance of a comprehensive Russian program. Among the opportunities to underscore the importance of such a program are the following:
At multinational forums, DOE and other external partners can stress the importance of a comprehensive program to help guide external contributions to support Russia’s efforts.
The DOE cooperative program is an important asset, and in some cases DOE’s efforts have encouraged parallel Russian activities beyond the cooperative program.
Both DOE and Rosatom have relied on the Nuclear Safety Institute (IBRAE) for analytical support in many relevant areas for a number of years, and DOE’s views are often reflected in approaches advocated by IBRAE, which has a receptive client in Rosatom.
In sum, only the Russian government has the capability to strengthen the many weaknesses in the security system for IRSs. Nevertheless, DOE and other external partners are in a good position to encourage the Russian government to develop a more comprehensive approach to ensure adequate life-cycle management of IRSs than currently exists. The development of such a comprehensive approach will be the measure of DOE’s success.
RELATED APPROACHES FOR COUNTERING THE THREAT OF RADIOLOGICAL TERRORISM
Enhancing the security of IRSs has been the thrust of the cooperative program and should remain a core element of U.S.-Russian cooperation to counter radiological terrorism. However, when considering opportunities to have major impacts on reducing the threat of an RDD incident, DOE and other U.S. departments should have a broader perspective of how they can interact effectively with Russian counterparts.
For example, sound risk analysis should be a key tool in setting priorities for the cooperative program. The committee considers the current IAEA and DOE categorizations of risks associated with IRSs as discussed in Chapter 1 to be a reasonable starting point for risk assessment. Yet risk depends on many factors that have not yet been incorporated adequately into national or international efforts. These factors include not only total activity and half-life but also portability, dispersibility, prevalence of use, and public perceptions and fear of various radionuclides such as plutonium. At present, only a small fraction of the millions of existing IRSs are generally considered high risk, but thousands of other IRSs should be of great concern when all of the risk factors are taken into account. A number of institutions in the United States and abroad are carrying out research on broadly based quantitative analyses of risks, and the Russian scientific community has a strong tradition in risk analysis. Thus, U.S. and Russian experts should work together to develop risk models that take into account the foregoing and other factors, which could provide an improved basis for targeting resources to problems of greatest concern.
In addition, U.S.-Russian cooperation in the following related areas is important and should be pursued through appropriate mechanisms:
Effective information and intelligence gathering to provide early warning of an impending attack,
Aggressive detection and tracking of illicit trafficking of IRSs, along with investigations of disablement methods,
Effective response and mitigation activities to limit the damage associated with detonation of an RDD as previously discussed, and
Consideration of alternatives to highly radioactive IRSs.
Finally, lessons can be learned relevant to enhanced security of IRSs from experiences in implementing the long-standing U.S.-Russian program to improve the protection, control, and accounting of highly enriched uranium and plutonium in Russia. (e.g., approaches to overcome problems of access to sensitive facilities, effectiveness of various types of contracts, use of local materials and equipment). The committee urges DOE to review such lessons jointly with Russian counterparts. This suggestion does not imply that the dangers associated with weapon-usable material falling into the hands of terrorist groups or hostile governments are in any way comparable to the loss of IRSs. Still, the overall approaches to enhanced security seem to have a great deal in common.
In conclusion, the United States is not the only country vitally concerned with developments in Russia. The Scandinavian countries have long had interests in replacing the radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) in the Far North of Russia. Japan is concerned about developments
in the Far East. The Ukrainian government is concerned when smuggled radionuclides of Russian origin cross into its territory. In addition, as incidents of radiological terrorism begin to emerge in Europe, many G-8 governments recognize that Russia is a likely source of material that could be used in dirty bombs.
The committee firmly believes that the United States has played and should continue to play an important leadership role in catalyzing this widespread interest in enhancing the security of IRSs in Russia and thereby significantly reducing the likelihood of dirty bombs being detonated in Russia or elsewhere. Of all of DOE’s international partners, Russia is unique in 1) offering challenges for improving international security and 2) having capabilities that are of great interest to the United States. A cooperative program that spotlights practical solutions to critical problems can continue to stimulate Russian activities to address many related problems. Nevertheless, some IRSs may fall into the hands of terrorists, but security upgrades together with preparations for responding to inevitable incidents can greatly reduce the risks associated with radiological terrorism.