The Viridian Design Movement

From: Bruce Sterling []
Sent: Friday, June 21, 2002 9:50 PM

Subject: Viridian Note 00318: Dirty Bombs

Key concepts: radiological nuclear terrorism, crime and corruption

Attention Conservation Notice: incredibly scary, grim and depressing. Lots of cool links, though. Just surf the links and ignore the article.


I'm speaking at this conference. It's swarming with out-there comp-sci people.

Our beloved homepage, for all you newbies. Sensor networks galore. Micromachined bio-laboratories on a chip. Some pretty big market muscle behind the Toyota hybrid electric.

National Mall in Washington DC becomes prototype solar community.

Nifty-keen solid bamboo-laminate "Yolanda Chair." A mere four hundred bucks. Hey, in Euros, that's getting cheaper all the time.

Ambient Orb contains pager, changes colors on signal.

And the piece de resistance: METROPOLIS at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair.

Source:Radio Free Europe Crime and Corruption Watch,
Roman Kupchinsky

Subject: RFE/RL Crime and Corruption Watch Vol. 2, No. 24, 20 June 2002 Date: Friday, June 21, 2002 12:30 PM From: RFE/RL List Manager <>

"RFE/RL Crime and Corruption Watch
"Vol. 2, No. 24, 20 June 2002

"Reporting on Organized Crime and Corruption in the former USSR, East Europe, and the Middle East


By Roman Kupchinsky

"How difficult would it be for a determined group of terrorists, or criminals intent on nuclear blackmail, to obtain the radioactive ingredient needed to construct a 'dirty bomb' and make the island of Manhattan uninhabitable for 40 years? The answer, unfortunately, is not so hard at all.

(((After this narrative hook, it doesn't get any cozier, ladies and gentlemen. If your blood pressure's been spiking lately, you might want to stop right here.)))

"In the 'Report Card on the Department of Energy's Nonproliferation Programs with Russia' issued on 10 January 2001, the blunt facts are all there:

"'The most urgent unmet national security threat to the United States today is the danger that weapons of mass destruction or weapons-usable material in Russia could be stolen and sold to terrorists or hostile nation states and used against American troops abroad or citizens at home. This threat is a clear and present danger to the international community as well as to American lives and liberties.

(((Well, obviously the American hyperpower is the number one target for this kind of antic, but should the Yankees get dirty-bombed, don't expect that to make an end of the practice. The American population boasts more dirty-bomb debris and better-educated terrorists than any other candidates for mayhem.)))

"'Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, we have witnessed the dissolution of an empire having over 40,000 nuclear weapons, over a thousand metric tons of nuclear materials, vast quantities of chemical and biological weapons materials, and thousands of missiles. This Cold War arsenal is spread across 11 time zones and lacks the Cold War infrastructure that provided the control and financing necessary to assure that chains of command remain intact and nuclear weapons and materials remain securely beyond the reach of terrorists and weapons- proliferating states.'

(((Yep, those are some pretty grim statistics... The USA is spread across quite a few time zones itself, and should somebody truck-nuke Washington, the unparalleled US arsenal will be just sort of, well, sitting there.)))

"The Department of Energy's (DOE) 'Report Card' identifies the present danger. It was soon followed by a February 2001 report to the U.S. Congress by the General Accounting Office (GAO-01-312), 'Nuclear Nonproliferation == Security of Russia's Nuclear Material Improving; Further Enhancements Needed."

(((Why are our very lives hinging on documents with such dorky, lifeless prose?)))

"The GAO report by and large agrees with the Department of Energy on the complex problems of having a U.S. government agency approaching Russia, an enemy for decades, and trying to instruct it on how to protect its own nuclear stockpiles from theft. (((Where's the Russian Energy Dept.'s "report card" on the NATO stockpiles?)))

"It was clear from the very start that the United States did not have much faith in the abilities of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) or the country's Interior Ministry (MVD) to guard state nuclear facilities from theft. (((Mostly because the FSB and MVD are major packs of thieves, but that's another story.))) This correct assumption was bound to create enemies within the FSB and MVD. The Russians == trained for decades to believe that the Department of Energy was merely a front for the Central Intelligence Agency, which was intent upon stealing their secrets == tried to obstruct the project.

(((I wouldn't be so lame as to claim that the DoE is the same entity as the CIA, but let me put it this way: they're both obsessed with fossil fuels.)))

"They have been highly successful in their obstruction in the past few years.

"The GAO study points out that: 'Because the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy has restricted the Department's access to some nuclear weapons laboratories and civilian sites, the Department is not installing security systems in 104 buildings containing hundreds of metric tons of material that it has identified as needing improved security systems.' It goes on to say that 603 metric tons of highly enriched uranium and plutonium is at risk of being stolen.

((((Why not buy a personal Geiger counter and see if Al Qaeda has stored some in your basement?)))

"The materials at these civilian research centers, naval fuel-storage areas, and nuclear laboratories can be used in a nuclear weapon without any reprocessing. They can be carried out by 'one or two people in portable containers or as components from dismantled weapons.' (((Or, you can just hide them in a handy ton of Afghani heroin.)))

"And while the DOE has installed security systems 'not as stringent as those installed in the United States' (which is strange, given the likelihood that terrorists or criminals would attempt to buy these materials not in the U.S. but abroad == most likely in Russia); they are 'designed to reduce the risk of nuclear material theft at Russian sites.' The GAO report then concludes that its investigation showed that: 'Russian officials' concerns about divulging national security information continue to impede DOE's efforts to install systems for several hundred metric tons of nuclear materials at sensitive Russian sites' (p. 27).

(((Or, you can ignore the Russian nuclear material. You can be American, leave your Pakistani wife, step off a plane in Chicago with some vague evil scheme of using American trash for American dirty-bombs, and end up as an American-citizen desaparecido.)))

"Having installed the instruments of security at those sites to which the Russian government allowed them access, the DOE and the Russian government need to keep them operational in the long run. But how are those measures to be assessed? Is the system functioning or not? In a presumed reference to the Russian capacity for haphazard monitoring (Chornobyl being the perfect example of a huge 'dirty bomb' released by faulty monitoring), the GAO report goes on to say that: 'The new security systems' ability to reduce the risk of theft also depends on whether the site personnel operate the systems on a continuing basis.'

(((It's a shame that this inept sentence destroys that striking image as Chernobyl as a dirty-bomb avant la lettre.)))

"This means constant monitoring of alarms, sensors, cameras, and so on. ((("Energy too cheap too meter.")))

"In 1997, the DOE turned to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to 'develop measures to determine the system's effectiveness.' Scientists there developed a measurement system, but it was not adopted 'because it was too complex and time-intensive to implement' (GAO report, p. 16). (((Maybe our whole civilization is "too complex and time-intensive to implement.")))

"In an honest assessment of the situation, (((huh?! How'd that get in there?))) the GOA concurs with the DOE and comes to the conclusion that the Russian side 'lack[s] the financial resources, adequately trained staff, and the knowledge of procedures to operate and maintain the systems effectively.... [M]any of the sites cannot afford the warranties, parts, or technical support necessary to ensure that the new systems are fully operational' (GAO report, p. 17).

(((Who on earth can afford nuclear power, then? It's too dangerous and complicated even for the ultra-tidy Japanese.)))

"These are the results of official U.S.-Russian efforts to prevent the theft from Russia of radioactive components that can wreak havoc (by means of 'dirty' or 'clean' bombs) in whatever city a terrorist group targets. (((And if they're like the Khmer Rouge, they'll target all cities just because they're cities.)))

"Despite these efforts, we must keep in mind that in December 1998, an employee at Russia's premier nuclear weapons laboratory in Sarov (formerly Arzamas-16) was arrested for espionage and charged with attempting to sell documents on nuclear weapons designs to agents of Iraq and Afghanistan for $3 million. (((How did an "agent of Afghanistan" get that kind of cash?)))

"The regional head of the FSB, when reporting the case, confirmed that it was not the first case of nuclear theft at Sarov and explained that such thefts were the result of the 'very difficult financial position' of workers at such defense enterprises. (((Imagine being so broke you need a big bribe from an Afghani.))) The GAO report states that only four of the 40 buildings in the Sarov facility had completed or partially completed security systems installed.

"But another factor emerges: old, discarded Soviet generators used to power lighthouses and communications equipment. Some 1,000 radiothermal generators, containing radioactive strontium-90 or plutonium-238, are now abandoned. ((("Our Friend Mr Atom."))) This was first exposed by RFE/RL correspondent Jeremy Bransten on 21 March 2002 ('World: Danger Of 'Dirty Bombs' Exacerbated By Old Soviet Generators,'

"In that report, he described how two cylinders containing highly radioactive strontium-90 were found by three loggers in Georgia. They turned them in to the state. 'The cylinders were so radioactive, in fact, they had melted the surrounding snow.' The cylinders were disposed of by a team of experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

(((Does this report of dead, moldering technology surprise anybody on Viridian List? Please raise your hand if you are shocked, shocked.)))

"These radioactive generators are efficient, compact, and can run for a number of years. Many of them have been abandoned, and few recall where they were built. Nonetheless, they remain unguarded, neglected potential components of a 'dirty bomb.'

"WHAT WOULD IT TAKE TO DESTROY MANHATTAN? (((Uhm... how about a cattle-call to become the next cast member of "Sex and the City"?)))

"Food irradiation is a common process all over the world. It has produced enormous success in fighting hunger and famine. It can also can serve a darker purpose: It can be a provider of a simple ingredient for widespread destruction. (((Mmm! Tasty!)))MMM

"In a 1999 publication by the International Consultative Group on Food Irradiation titled 'Facts About Food Irradiation,' (((Subsection (C)(3): "How Food Irradiation Destroys Manhattan"))) the authors provide the following information on the process:

"'The radionuclide used almost exclusively for the irradiation of food by gamma rays is cobalt-60. It is produced by neutron bombardment in a nuclear reactor of the metal cobalt-59, then doubly encapsulated in stainless steel 'pencils' to prevent any leakage during its use in an irradiator. Cobalt-60 has a half-life of 5.3 years, the gamma rays produced are highly penetrating and can be used to treat full boxes of fresh or frozen food. Cesium-137 is the only other gamma-emitting radionuclide suitable for industrial processing of materials. It can be obtained by reprocessing spent, or used, nuclear fuel elements and has a half-life of 30 years.

"'However, there is no supply of commercial quantities of cesium-137. Cobalt-60 has therefore become the choice for gamma radiation source; over 80 percent of the cobalt- 60 available in the world market is produced in Canada. ((("Blame Canada."))) Other producers are the Russian Federation, the People's Republic of China, India and South Africa.' (((Models of civil stability!)))

"Radioactive cobalt used in the process comes in cobalt 'pencils' which are about one foot long and one inch in diameter. According to a study by the Federation of American Scientists presented to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 6 March 2002 by Henry Kelly, if one such cobalt pencil were exploded by a conventional explosive (TNT) at the lower tip of Manhattan, 'No immediate evacuation would be necessary, but in this case, an area of approximately 1,000 square kilometers, extending over three states, would be contaminated.'

"The residents of 300 typical city blocks would have a one-in-10 risk of getting deadly cancers for 40 years. 'The entire borough of Manhattan would be so contaminated that anyone living there would have a one-in-100 chance of dying from cancer caused by the residual radiation. It would be decades before the city was inhabitable again, and demolition might be necessary.' (((Viridian Involuntary Parks: "Manhattan: Skyscraper National Park.")))

'Facts About Food Irradiation' adds that: 'From 1955 to date, Canada has shipped approximately 480 million curies of cobalt-60 without any radiation hazard to the environment or release of radioactive materials. Over the same period, approximately 1 million shipments of radioisotopes for industrial, hospital, and research use were made in North America without radiation accidents.'

"This is indeed a fine record, but when the booklet was written in 1999, there was considerably less fear that some of the cobalt being so frequently shipped might be stolen.

"The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) assures the public that: 'CNSC regulations prohibit the disclosure of location, routing and timing of shipments of nuclear materials, such as spent fuel. The shipment of radioactive material is also governed by Transport Canada's Transportation of Dangerous Goods Regulations, which require shippers to have emergency response plans in place.'

Is this enough to prevent the theft of a single pencil of cobalt? (((Gee, I dunno... maybe you could steal a pencil of cobalt from a blind man's cup.)))

"The Federation of American Scientists (((A bunch of crazy leftists, so never mind them))) concludes: 'Radiological attacks constitute a credible threat. Radioactive materials that could be used for such attacks are stored in thousands of facilities around the U.S., many of which may not be adequately protected against theft by determined terrorists. Some of this material could be easily dispersed in urban areas by using conventional explosives or by other methods.' ((("Au Revoir, Belle Epoque.")))

"The U.S. DOE Task Force offers a sober assessment of the present danger: 'Most of the cases involving the successful seizure and recovery of stolen nuclear weapons- usable material have occurred on the western border of Russia.' In their estimate, the southern border is much less secure == representing the soft underbelly of the former USSR. ((("Underbelly"? Come on, it's all soft. Canada is soft.)))

"The armed conflicts in these regions and the proximity to such states as Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan makes it a no-man's land for potential nuclear smugglers. The task force was further advised that buyers from Iraq, Iran, and other countries have actively sought nuclear material from Russian sites that could be used in constructing nuclear weapons."

O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O
O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O