Testimony on "U.S. International Efforts to Secure Radiological Materials" before the Senate Homeland Security Subcommittee on OversightAssistant Deputy Administrator Andrew Bieniawski
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, for giving me the opportunity to testify on the Department of Energy’s (DOE) efforts to secure and recover vulnerable, high-risk radioactive sources outside the United States that pose a security risk to U.S. strategic assets at home and around the world. We very much appreciate the committee’s continued interest and leadership on the issue of securing vulnerable radiological sources both domestically and internationally.
I am pleased to report that, since its inception in 2002, the DOE International Radiological Threat Reduction program has completed security upgrades at more than 500 sites in over forty countries around the world. Radioactive materials such as Cobalt-60, Cesium-137, Strontium-90, and Americium-241, which are used worldwide for many legitimate purposes, could be exploited by terrorists to produce a radiological dispersion device (RDD), or dirty bomb. The program’s primary objectives are to (1) implement rapid physical security upgrades at vulnerable sites containing radioactive sources; (2) locate, recover and consolidate lost or abandoned high-risk radioactive sources; and (3) support the development of the infrastructure necessary to sustain security enhancements, including the development of regional partnerships to leverage international resources.
THE RADIOLOGICAL THREAT
Before I describe our progress in responding to the recommendations within the recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on our work in this area, I would like to address the radiological threat and why we are accelerating and expanding our efforts. The intent of terrorists to acquire radioactive materials for use in an RDD poses a significant risk to the American public and needs to be addressed. One of the many lessons learned from the attacks of September 11, 2001 is that some of the most common tools used in our daily lives, such as commercial airliners, can and will be used by terrorists in an attempt to wreak havoc on the U.S. and other democratic governments around the world. Radioactive materials, in particular, are used routinely for a variety of medical, industrial and educational purposes. Commonly used sources available in sufficient quantities for an attractive RDD capable of causing harm of national significance include Cobalt-60, Cesium-137, Iridium-192, and Radium-226. Should terrorists acquire and use these materials in an RDD, the physical, psychological and economic impact could be significant.
Since September 11, we have witnessed several large-scale sophisticated terrorist attacks around the world. The terrorist attacks in Russia, Spain, Indonesia, Iraq and UK have all been well planned with no regard for the well being of innocent civilians. A terrorist act using an explosive RDD could result in a few immediate radiation-induced deaths and over the longer-term increased cancer induced deaths; and, substantial near and long-term economic losses due to the costs associated with environmental decontamination and the serious psychological impact upon the general population. Unlike a nuclear weapon, the explosion of an RDD would likely result in instant deaths only in the immediate vicinity of the explosion. However, the economic consequences of such an explosion could be severe, perhaps in the billions of dollars.
From various reports, Al Qaeda is known to be interested in acquiring the materials for a radiological weapon. In June 2005, Senator Lugar, polled dozens of nonproliferation experts around the world; the Lugar Survey on Proliferation Threats and Responses concluded that “the probability of a radiological attack…was twice as high as…” other potential WMD attacks such as biological and nuclear. Given the reality of this situation, the Department, this Administration, and Congress have taken important steps to increase radiological threat reduction efforts.
GLOBAL THREAT REDUCTION INITIATIVE
In order to more effectively address the risk of terrorist use of an RDD, in 2004 DOE consolidated its radiological threat reduction efforts into the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI). The program’s primary approach to reducing the risk posed by vulnerable high-activity radiation sources abroad is to: (1) implement rapid physical security upgrades at vulnerable sites containing radioactive sources; (2) locate, recover and consolidate, into secure facilities, lost or abandoned high-risk radioactive sources; and (3) support the development of the infrastructure necessary to sustain enhanced security systems, including through the development of regional partnerships leveraging international resources. GTRI works with international partners to enhance security of vulnerable radiological material located at civilian sites worldwide that, if stolen or diverted, could be used in a RDD. GTRI is a vital part of the President’s National Security Strategy of the Untied States of America and the President’s July 2006 Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism aimed at strengthening international cooperation to secure nuclear and radiological materials and to prevent the use of these materials in terrorist acts. In addition, GTRI directly addresses recommendations of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission.
DOE and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) are committed to securing and removing vulnerable radiological sources around the world. Over the past several years, DOE and NNSA have significantly accelerated efforts to secure vulnerable sources. To date, DOE/NNSA has secured more than 500 vulnerable radiological sources worldwide since 2002. In fact, since we began our efforts to first secure sources internationally in 2002, we have accelerated these efforts each and every year. As of January 2007, DOE has spent approximately $120 million to secure vulnerable radiological sources under its International Radiological Threat Reduction Program. This demonstrates both a strong commitment and a successful program that produces tangible results and reduces the risks that these vulnerable sources could be acquired by terrorists to make a "dirty bomb".
I am also pleased to note that this committee, and the U.S. Congress as a whole, have provided critical support to DOE’s radiological threat reduction efforts both domestically and internationally. I applaud the numerous Congressional actions that have helped make our efforts possible, including the establishment of legal authority for DOE to collect high-activity and high-risk radioactive sources (Greater-Than-Class-C) within the United States via the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Amendments Act, the provision of emergency appropriations after the terrorists acts of 9/11 for the accelerated domestic recovery of radioactive sources; authorization and appropriations to carry out dirty bomb threat reduction efforts internationally; and emergency supplemental funding for DOE to carry out radiological threat reduction work in Iraq, resulting in the successful removal of nearly 1,000 high-risk radioactive sources from that country.
GAO RECOMMENDATIONS AND DOE ACTIONS
I would also like to recognize GAO for conducting a comprehensive assessment of our efforts to secure and recover vulnerable high risk radioactive sources at various sites around the world. Their efforts and recommendations have helped us make adjustments to improve the effectiveness of the program.
We are pleased that the GAO report recognizes that “DOE has achieved noteworthy accomplishments in improving the security of radiological sources at hundreds of sites in more than 40 countries...” The GAO report also highlighted several notable DOE accomplishments, including the fact that DOE:
As GAO notes, radioactive sources provide substantial medical, industrial, and agricultural benefits. Because radioactive materials are in widespread commercial use throughout the world, the GAO report acknowledged that we face a considerable challenge in securing other countries’ most dangerous radiological sources given the number of these sources and how widely they are employed. While we believe that we have achieved a great deal of threat reduction in a short period of time, there remains an enormous amount of dangerous material left to secure or eliminate.
In their study, GAO identified areas that it believes need to be further addressed by DOE – prioritization, quality assurance/sustainability, coordination, and transportation. It is important to note that we already have in place substantial measures to address each of these areas. For example, during the past several months GTRI undertook a major program assessment aimed at establishing new prioritization guidelines for securing and recovering vulnerable nuclear and other radioactive material around the world. GTRI has further improved coordination by organizing the program regionally.
Regarding GAO’s belief that we need to further address prioritization, we note that:
Regarding the GAO’s recommendations on quality assurance/sustainability, we note that:
Our standard protection upgrade implementation practice ensures quality assurance. This is accomplished by (1) having the development of a protection upgrade design reviewed and approved by NNSA physical protection experts prior to payment for the contracted design document; (2) insisting the approved design document is a precondition to proceeding with procurement of protection equipment and installation; (3) conducting post-installation visits by our technical experts for the purpose of assuring all equipment and systems are installed as agreed upon in the design document (if installations are performed incorrectly, payments are withheld until corrections are made). We are further investigating this process to identify and implement additional improvements.
Regarding GAO’s recommendation to further address coordination, we note that NNSA is closely cooperating with other offices within the DOE, other Government Agencies, and international partners. In fact, the GAO report notes that DOE has improved coordination with the State Department and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to secure sources in other countries. The GAO report also acknowledges that DOE has involved State and NRC in its international radiological threat reduction activities more often and has increased information sharing with the agencies since GAO last reported on this matter in 2003. Additional examples of coordination include:
Regarding the GAO’s recommendation to further address transportation, we note that:
We appreciate the efforts made by the GAO report to reinforce the importance of DOE nuclear and radiological security programs in support of U.S. national security. GAO’s independent validation of our successes and recommendations for further strengthening of our efforts is very helpful.
In conclusion, we welcome this opportunity to focus attention on the very urgent and pressing issue of securing vulnerable radiological sources around the world. Thanks to your support, we have made significant progress to reduce the likelihood that terrorists will be able to acquire radiological sources for use in a dirty bomb. However, much work remains to be done and we look forward to working closely with Congress to continue to accelerate these efforts in the outyears.