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June 12, 08

NEWS / 71 Nations Join to Prevent Nuclear Terror Attack


By Jacquelyn S. Porth
Staff Writer

Washington -- The threat of nuclear terrorism is something many people avoid thinking about. But California Representative Adam Schiff, who created the bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Nuclear Security, says ignoring the problem will not make it disappear.

He supports ongoing efforts by world leaders to channel energy into imagining the direst scenario. Such leaders, of course, want to prevent a nuclear attack from coming to pass. But if they can’t do that, they want to be prepared to respond.

At a meeting in Madrid, Spain, representatives of 71 countries will consider the practical questions that can keep officials awake at night:

• How would terrorists acquire materials to make a nuclear explosive device?

• How would they build a weapon and move it to a target?

• What target would they select?

• What attack scenario is most realistic?

Officials realize that private companies and local governments are likely to be on the front line if a deadly nuclear scenario plays out.

Acting Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Rood told America.gov that the private sector “can make a real and meaningful contribution” in prevention, interdiction and mitigation.

During a recent interview, Rood said port and airport employees already are expert at screening cargo and have insights to share.

He also said the first responders to a nuclear detonation at an airport likely would be fire and rescue personnel employed by the state or by a privately owned airfield.

If a nuclear device exploded in a subway or at a sports event, local municipalities and private firms would be involved, as they would be in an explosion at a port.

Whatever the circumstance, Rood said, it will be important for local entities and private companies to interact among themselves and with federal and international authorities.

Rood also said it is important to reach out to nuclear industry experts for new ideas, especially relating to nuclear detection since there is as yet no existing global network of sensors.

PUBLIC-PRIVATE SECTOR NEW FOCUS FOR INITIATIVE

The Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism increasingly will seek to bring these groups into direct contact with the voluntary multilateral partnership. The initiative was launched in 2006 by U.S. President George Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The first three meetings were held in Morocco, Turkey and Kazakhstan. They were held, in part, to strengthen nations’ laws and legal frameworks to ensure that nuclear terrorists are prosecuted and punished.

There are now 71 nations publicly committed to the initiative’s principles:

• Develop and improve accounting, control and physical protection of nuclear materials.

• Enhance security for civilian nuclear facilities.

• Research and develop national detection capabilities that work with other nations.

• Improve capabilities to search, confiscate and keep nuclear materials under safe control.

• Deny safe haven and financial resources to those who would facilitate acts of nuclear terrorism.

• Ensure adequate civil and criminal laws to deter nuclear terrorists.

• Improve information sharing among participants while protecting confidential sources.

• Improve capabilities to investigate and respond to a nuclear incident.

In the United States, institutions such as the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy are involved, as are the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Coast Guard.

Counterpart organizations in other countries also are focused on the initiative mission that Rood described -- detecting, interdicting and preventing an attack, and being ready to respond should one occur.

The Germans, for example, recently hosted a Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism workshop to help countries catalog the use of radiological materials for industrial purposes and to develop better regulations.

Rood will lead the U.S. delegation to the fourth Global Initiative meeting in Spain June 16-18 to review the initiative’s progress. The Madrid meeting will have a special focus on nuclear detection and private-sector participation.

Spain also is scheduled to host a field exercise in the fall. Exercises are designed to test nations’ abilities to work together, develop new concepts of operations and ensure that all participants are as prepared as possible to deal with the broad threat.

Success requires more than just endorsing principles: There is a range of initiative activities to track and prevent terrorists from acquiring parts and resources.

The 71 countries are making it harder for terrorists searching for expertise and technology, according to Rood.

The initiative is off to a good start, and the United States anticipates working closely with like-minded states to expand the size and strength of the partnership so it is ready to deal with one of today’s most challenging security issues.

For more information about U.S. policy, see the State Department’s Web site on the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism.

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