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12 March 2003

Abraham Warns of "Terrible Threat" from Radiological Weapons

(Energy Secretary addresses IAEA conference in Vienna) (3170)

U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham told a Vienna conference of the
International Atomic Energy Agency that Radiological Dispersal Devices
(RDDs), or "dirty bombs" as they are sometimes called, pose "a
terrible threat" that 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," he
said March 11 in remarks to the conference on the "Security of
Radioactive Sources" attended by 600 representatives from more than
100 countries.

Abraham said RDDs are different from the kinds of weapons that are
dealt with in more traditional nuclear non-proliferation efforts
because 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."

The United States, he said, is in the process of evaluating potential
vulnerabilities in its 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."

He urged all countries represented at the conference to do the same,
saying that "collectively, we can ... make a difference."

Abraham announced a new U.S. initiative called the Radiological
Security Partnership, which he described as "a three-pronged approach
to addressing the potential threats from under-secured, high-risk
radioactive sources."

The first prong, he said, is helping countries to accelerate and
expand national initiatives to keep track of and better secure
national inventories of high-risk radioactive sources.

Second, the United States will expand the "Tripartite" model -- in
which the U.S., the IAEA and Russia work together to identify and
secure high-risk radioactive sources in the former Soviet Union -- 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," he said.

The third prong will expand a new Department of Energy project to
improve the U.S. ability to detect nuclear materials or weapons en
route to the United States. "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," he said.

He said the United States plans to contribute $3 million over the next
year to support the Radiological Security Partnership. The funds will
be used in particular to "support our efforts to work with developing
countries to secure high-risk sources in their countries."

Following is the text of Abraham's remarks:

(begin transcript)

Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham
Remarks at the IAEA Conference
on the Security of Radioactive Sources

Vienna, Austria -- Good morning. It is an honor and a pleasure to be
here to address this Conference, both as its President, and on behalf
of my Government.

I want to begin by thanking Director General El Baradei for his
gracious welcome, and for all the work he and his staff, including
Abel Gonzalez, put in to make this Conference possible.

I also want to express my appreciation to the Russian Federation,
co-sponsor with the United States of the Conference, and in particular
to Minister of Atomic Energy Rumyantsev.

Thanks also to Minister Ferrero-Waldner for welcoming us all to the
wonderful City of Vienna. And thanks to all of you here today for
attending this important 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. I seldom see it in a headline, or hear it in a newscast. 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.

Radioactive sources can be found all over the world, and terrorists
are seeking to acquire them.

The threat they represent to people of every nation is very real.

This threat has been a particular concern to the United States since
the September 11 attacks. On that day, we learned that terrorists will
strike anywhere, at any time. They will employ technology never
intended for use as weapons, to murder thousands of innocent and
unsuspecting people in the most shocking and ruthless way.

We know now that there is no weapon they will not use, and no weapon
they are not seeking to acquire. 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. Remember Brazil, in 1987. Urban
scavengers found a medical teletherapy machine left in an abandoned
building. They removed the radioactive source from its shielding,
ruptured it, and distributed the beautiful blue, glowing powder they
found inside to their friends, neighbors and relatives. The powder was
Cesium 137.

Four people died. More than 110,000 people were monitored for
radiation exposure at the city's sports stadium. Scores of buildings
were evacuated and some were even demolished. Cleanup costs were
enormous.

The incident generated about 3,500 cubic meters of radioactive waste.
Actual fatalities were relatively light in the Brazil incident, but
panic was widespread. I can only imagine how much worse the situation
would have been had terrorists dispersed the toxic material rather
than innocent, uninformed people.

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.

I came here to Vienna for the IAEA's 45th General Conference just six
days after September 11. At that time, I called on IAEA's Member
States to confront the new terrorist threat.

The IAEA Secretariat proposed, and the Board of Governors approved, a
new Nuclear Security Fund to help its member states to protect against
nuclear terrorism. The action plan covers a broad range of activities
to help states put in place the legal, regulatory, and technical
elements needed to reduce the risk of misuse of nuclear and other
radioactive material.

Thus far, the United States has contributed $8.7 million to the IAEA
program. I encourage all Member States to contribute to this fund.

Last September, at the 46th IAEA General Conference, I discussed why
Radiological Dispersal Devices presented a growing and disconcerting
threat of a new kind. In my remarks then, I proposed that this
conference be convened.

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.

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 benefited from
bacteria-free, sterile medical equipment made possible by irradiation
technology.

Many more lives have been saved thanks to the smoke alarms and
emergency exit signs that are now common in homes, schools and
offices.

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 a 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.

I have said on many occasions - before the IAEA and elsewhere - that
taking measures to control dangerous and vulnerable radioactive
sources is not just the responsibility of a 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.

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. These actions will ensure
that the sources of greatest concern do not fall out of regulatory
control and become orphaned in the future.

In short, we are taking action to lessen the threat of radioactive
sources being misused in a RDD.

I would like to ask everyone gathered here today, the government
representatives and officials in a position to take bold and decisive
action, to do the same.

Collectively, we can all make a difference.

Collectively, we can all reduce the threat of RDDs worldwide.

We can all work at home and through IAEA to get the job done.

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 radioactive sources.

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.

We are ready to assist other interested countries to speed the needed
improvements, and we want to begin immediately.

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. As I mentioned earlier,
the United States is committed to establishing detection choke points
at suspected smuggling routes, in order to better detect illicit
traffic in radioactive sources.

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. This equipment - which in some cases can
be as simple and small as the radiation pager I'm holding in my hand
-- can play a key role in the effectiveness of this critical
initiative.

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.

Later this morning, Mr. David Huizenga of the United States Department
of Energy will discuss elements of our strategy in greater detail, and
all that the United States government is doing to execute it.

Having outlined what my government has done and is willing to do, I
want to applaud the work that has already been done by the IAEA and
other member states.

While this may be the largest conference held on the security of
radioactive sources, it is not the first. I am thinking particularly
of the 1998 conference in Dijon, which was one of the first to deal
with the security aspects of radiological sources.

The IAEA Member States are developing a revised Code of Conduct to
guide their efforts to better account for under-secured radioactive
sources. I understand the drafting work on the code is just about
completed, and I applaud the member states for making the Herculean
effort this task required.

I urge all Member States to review the Code before it comes to the
Board of Governors for approval. The United States strongly endorses
this process.

The IAEA is taking important steps to categorize radioactive sources
so the international community better understands which sources pose
the greatest security risks.

It is also carrying out its model project to help member states
improve their national infrastructures and regulatory systems of
control.

The Agency is taking concrete steps in Moldova and elsewhere to secure
at-risk radiological sources, and helping countries establish
effective systems for tracking and inventorying these sources.

We have already demonstrated our ability to address these problems.
For example, the Republic of Georgia, in cooperation with the IAEA,
undertook the dangerous task of recovering RTGs that had been left
unprotected in the countryside. Thanks to the commitment of the
Georgians, the IAEA, and even my own agency, we secured the RTGs in
record time. The Georgians, in cooperation with the United States
Department of Energy, were also able to upgrade the security of the
facility where the RTGs were stored.

I have outlined a number of steps that the United States is taking,
and I have noted steps that the IAEA has initiated that can truly
benefit the international community's ability to get a handle on these
problems.

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.

We have a great deal of work to do over the next three days, and a
tremendous amount of information to share.

We will be hearing from experts from around the world, and we will
hear from those who have had to deal with radioactive source problems
firsthand.

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.

When we leave this Conference, we will have a few essential steps to
take to begin to ensure the security of our nations' - and the world's
- radioactive sources:

-- 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.

There is much work ahead for all of us. And this Conference is the
place to start. 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.

Thank you very much. We look forward to a successful Conference.

(end transcript)

(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)