Dirty bombs

Terrorism around the corner


Ten years ago today I joined a group of nuclear security  and terrorism experts for a meal in Central London, following a day of discussion of terrorist threats on nuclear waste stores.

The reason for the meeting was the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM-1) had convened a group of security specialists to advise CoRWM on security aspects of radioactive waste management and storage facilities.

Less than 10 hours after the dinner, a bomb destroyed a London bus barely two minutes around the  corner from the restaurant, one of four bombs to  be detonated by suicide bombers that rush hour morning on London Public Transport, killing 52 people, and injuring a further 700.

It was a black coincidence that this meeting of terrorist specialists should have met so close to a terrorist outrage

When the group met for the second time, in London on 13-14 December 2005, the specialists unanimously agreed on a statement, and conveyed to CoRWM their strong belief that the statement should appear at a prominent place in the final documentation of the CoRWM process then under way, which it did. The statement reads:

“The security Specialists appointed to the CoRWM Specialist Security Workshop

recognize that CoRWM is not responsible for the priority that is being given to the

conditioning and mode of storage of nuclear waste forms prior to their transportation to

the selected storage/disposal facility that may not occur for some decades into the future.

However, it is our unanimous opinion that greater attention should be given to the

current management of radioactive waste held in the UK, in the context of its

vulnerability to potential terrorist attacks. We are not aware of any UK Government

programme that is addressing this issue with adequate detail or priority, and consider it

unacceptable for some vulnerable waste forms, such as spent fuel, to remain in their

current condition and mode of storage. We urge the Government to take the required

action and to instruct the NDA, in cooperation with the regulators, to produce an

implementation plan for categorising and reducing the vulnerability of the UK’s

inventory of radioactive waste to potential acts of terrorism, through conditioning and

placement in storage options with an engineered capability specifically designed to

resist a major terrorist attack.”

“This report assumes that a security event is a deliberate, planned attack. The underlying

motives for the attack are not important here, except to the extent that they affect the

probability of the event. It is important, however, to understand the specific objectives

that attackers might hope to achieve by attacking a radioactive-waste facility or transport

operation. These objectives can be categorized within three general purposes: releasing

radioactive material directly; misappropriating radioactive material for subsequent malicious

use; and misappropriating fissile material, also for subsequent malicious use.”

Radioactive Waste Management Limited is currently consulting on its latest stage of planning for nuclear waste burial. It has yet to address  the terrorist threat in the decade