Potential “Dirty Bomb” Ingredient Removed From NYC Hospital
Federal and New York Police Department officials last week worked together to secure and transport a small amount of cesium 137 from a city hospital to a storage site operated by the U.S. Energy Department, Newsday reported (see GSN, Jan. 14).
Cesium 137 has been identified as a potential ingredient of a radiological “dirty bomb,” which would use conventional explosives to disperse radioactive material in an urban center or other location.
The material used in a blood irradiation machine at the now-shuttered St. Vincent’s Hospital Manhattan was not believed to be at risk for acquisition by terrorists. However, authorities nonetheless chose to relocate the cesium to a secure location.
The Energy’s Department’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration collected the material while NYPD officers guarded the operation.
“This recovery is part of NNSA’s broad strategy to keep dangerous nuclear and radiological material safe and secure and protect the American people by enhancing our nation’s nuclear security,” NNSA Principal Assistant Deputy Administrator Kenneth Baker said in a prepared statement (Anthony Destefano, Newsday, July 4).
Chemical Weapons Disposal Interrupted in Alabama
The Anniston Army Depot in Alabama temporarily suspended chemical weapons disposal Thursday following an equipment breakdown, the Anniston Star reported (see GSN, June 21).
“No one was hurt, and no munitions or (chemical) agent were involved,” said Army spokesman Mike Abrams. “The community was never in danger.”
The malfunction involved a chilling device installed in a room adjacent to the building that conducts actual chemical-weapon disposal. The system became overheated at roughly 4 p.m. Thursday, leading to initiation of the plant’s fire-response protocol. There was no immediate word on whether a fire had ignited.
The machine is one component of a system intended to prevent air from the incineration facility from being released into the environment. That negative air pressure was not compromised by the event, Abrams said.
Disposal operations were expected to resume only after the chiller had been fixed.
“It’s like a blown light bulb on the space shuttle,” Abrams said. “You don’t move forward until you are sure that everything is working at 100 percent” (Tim Lockette, Anniston Star, July 1).
U.S.-Polish Missile Shield Collaboration Moves Ahead
Poland and the United States on Friday pledged to continue plans for collaboration on ballistic missile defense, even after the Obama administration drastically altered the U.S. approach for a Europe-based shield (see GSN, May 25).
The Bush administration had planned to deploy 10 long-range missile interceptors in Poland and a radar base in the Czech Republic to help protect Europe and the United States from missiles fired by nations such as Iran. Its successor replaced that initiative with the “phased adaptive approach” that focuses on fielding sea- and land-based versions of the Standard Missile 3 around Europe over a period of years as a hedge against Iranian short- and medium-range missiles.
The document signed last week in Krakow revises the U.S.-Polish agreement to fit Washington’s revised policy.
“This agreement begins implementation of the U.S. European-based phased adaptive approach (EPAA) for ballistic missile defense and enables the stationing of a U.S. land-based missile defense interceptor system in the Republic of Poland,” the U.S. State Department said in a release. “The agreed ballistic missile defense site in Poland is scheduled to become operational in the 2018 time frame and constitutes a key element of Phase 3 of the EPAA. Upon entry into force, this agreement marks an important step in our countries’ efforts to protect our NATO allies from the threat posed by the proliferation of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction” (U.S. State Department release, July 3).
Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said he believed the Obama administration’s missile-shield plan would be more effective than the Bush program and would safeguard Europe “from a bigger range of threats,” the Wall Street Journal reported.
“The new version is a better one for us,” said Sikorski, who observed the signing ceremony alongside U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The Obama administration’s top diplomat said the new plan would provide greater defense against “evolving missile threats, especially from Iran” and would shield areas of Europe more quickly than its predecessor. She also addressed Russia’s continued concerns that the missile shield could threaten its own deterrent.
“This is a purely defensive system. It’s not directed at Russia. It is not a threat to Russia,” Clinton said.
Moscow remains welcome to join Washington in missile shield collaboration, she added. Sikorski said his government could permit Russian officials to examine missile defense installations in order to address their worries about the system (Gordon Fairclough, Wall Street Journal, July 3).
“NATO has encouraged Russia to cooperate and even participate in the missile defense efforts that NATO is undertaking against what we view as common threats,” Clinton said after the signing ceremony, according to the Hill newspaper. “Russia has not accepted that offer, but the offer stands” (Roxana Tiron, The Hill, July 3).
The Kremlin, which also objected to the recent deployment of U.S. Patriot missiles in Poland, made it clear today its concerns stand, Bloomberg reported (see GSN, June 25).
The Iranian missile threat “doesn’t exist on the scale that would require the deployment of such systems,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was reported to say (Patrick Henry, Bloomberg, July 6).