Radiological Terrorism – A Global Policy Challenge in Need of Urgent Action

By Dr Bahram Ghiassee

The UK could be crippled by readily obtainable radiological ‘dirty bombs’, according to a think tank report.

Radiological Terrorism – A Global Policy Challenge in Need of Urgent Action, released today by the Henry Jackson Society, assesses the prospect of radiological terrorism being unleashed on the streets of the UK.

The author, Dr Bahram Ghiassee, a nuclear security expert, writes that the UK’s transport network particularly vulnerable to debilitating attacks.

The report’s author outlines a scenario whereby terrorist groups, using ‘Dirty Bombs’, attack transport systems at London railway stations such as Euston, King’s Cross, or Waterloo. He argues that “a ‘Dirty Bomb’, containing 10kg of explosives and less than one gram of unshielded radioactive Caesium Chloride salt (Cs-137), could be easily carried in a rucksack”. “The stations, and surrounding areas up to a few square kilometres away” he writes “would need to be evacuated and cordoned off for many months following the attacks” with all transport ceasing.

The paper estimates that “the required decontamination and clean-up operations would cost several billion pounds for each station.”

According to the report, in order to construct such a dirty bomb terrorists may illicitly acquire radioactive waste, or “sealed radioactive sources” used extensively and “generally poorly secured” in medical and industrial applications.

The report highlights what it describes as the “most inadequate” attempts to “securing radioactive materials, countering radiological terrorism, preventing illicit trafficking, and fully protecting the public, the environment, and ecological systems” undertaken by the UK and international governments.

The report warns radiological material could be smuggled into the UK by illegal immigrants, criminals, or small commercial drones, as cigarettes, drugs, people, and weapons enter the UK illegally. Also, the security of radioactive sources and associated facilities used in hospitals, clinics, universities, and research centres needs to be strengthened, to deny access to terrorists and other non-State actors, and prevent malicious activities.

The author recommends:

  • The UNSC adopt a legally binding resolution to oblige all UN Member States to act accordingly, in establishing the requisite legal and institutional frameworks at national level; to secure and protect radioactive substances, sources, and associated facilities; and to prevent illicit transnational trafficking in radioactive material.
  • The establishment of an ‘International Centre for Radiological Security’, within the IAEA. Alternatively, a new Division of Nuclear Security and Radiological Security could be instituted at the IAEA.
  • The UK government amends the UK Border Strategy to extend and expand its border-monitoring systems for radiation detection beyond airports and established maritime crossings.



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