Radioactive materials can be used to do a lot of good. They are used to treat cancer, sterilize blood, and build economies worldwide, including here in the United States. However, if lost or stolen, these materials can pose a significant risk to our people and our cities. For instance, a terrorist could use these materials to set off a radiological dispersal device (RDD), or “dirty bomb,” in a major U.S. city, an act of terrorism that would have devastating economic and psychological consequences.
2020 Cities Initiative
In response to that threat, NNSA’s Office of Radiological Security (ORS) enhances security by preventing high-activity radioactive materials (that could injure someone exposed to them for a short amount of time) from being used in acts of terrorism. In 2017, ORS launched the 2020 Cities Initiative to enhance radiological security in our most heavily populated cities, such as by providing security enhancements to sites with high-activity radioactive materials. And it provided technology and training tools to law-enforcement professionals responsible for responding to a radiological theft.
Securing Our Businesses, Communities, and Country
To secure high-activity radioactive materials in U.S. cities where the consequences of radiological terrorism would be greatest, ORS worked to protect, remove, and reduce these materials. The initiative offered federally funded security enhancements, disposal of disused sources, and financial incentives to users interested in removing and replacing their cesium irradiators with X-ray devices. For example, through the Cesium Irradiator Replacement Project , participating businesses were able to replace cesium-137 based irradiators (which are used in medical applications) with alternative technologies, thereby achieve permanent radiological risk reduction. For law enforcement, ORS provided centralized monitoring systems that integrated critical alarms and video from local sites into operations centers along with response training tools.
Significant Progress in Securing Our Cities
The ORS 2020 Cities Initiative was successful thanks to the support of, and collaboration with, a wide range of partners including businesses, law enforcement, city and state leaders, and federal agencies. The initiative resulted in enhanced radiological security in our major cities and across our Nation including:
- Enhanced security of 604 buildings that use or store radioactive materials;
- Replacement of 104 radiological devices with alternative technologies, thereby eliminating the risk of radiological theft at those locations;
- Establishment of radiological security training programs for law enforcement in 17 cities resulting in more than 2,000 officers trained;
- Training of an additional 4,000 response officials through the ORS Alarm Response Training program in Oak Ridge, Tennessee; and
- Carrying out of numerous workshops in major cities bringing together radiological sites, local homeland security and regulatory officials, and law enforcement personnel. Events in Boston and San Francisco brought together partners from cities across the United States.
While the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic limited vital in-person collaboration, ORS adapted and collaborated with its partners through virtual training and assessment tools to reduce the risk of radiological terrorism.
According to Kasia Mendelsohn, NNSA’s Acting Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation, “The commitment of all of our state and local community, industry, medical, and law-enforcement partners to collaborate with ORS to take strong and sustained actions to enhance radiological security has made our cities safer.”
The commitment of all of our state and local community, industry, medical, and law-enforcement partners to collaborate with ORS to take strong and sustained actions to enhance radiological security has made our cities safer.
A Model Partnership
The ORS partnership with the city of Denver is an excellent example of the impact this work has in reducing the danger of radiological terrorism in our major cities. ORS partnered to enhance security with all Denver medical and industrial facilities using high-activity radioactive materials. Additionally, ORS worked extensively with the Denver Police Department (DPD) to ensure appropriate law-enforcement officials are notified of any attempted radiological material theft. The program also ensured that first responders have the plans, training, and tools to contain any adversary taking the material. Actions taken included:
- Establishing remote monitoring at the Real Time Crimes Center, Special Operations Office, and 911 monitoring centers;
- Developing a training program that included a mobile trailer with educational tools and that trained over 1,000 response personnel;
- Developing a training video to be delivered to all DPD officers at roll call sessions for multi-year sustainability training on radiological response; and
- Issuing policies promote a coordinated response to radiological theft events.
“Our partnership with ORS has strengthened the Denver Police Department’s ability to prevent and prepare for potential terrorism events, while enhancing relationships with our local hospitals and blood clinics that use radioactive material for lifesaving purposes,” said Cmdr. Patrick Phelan, Special Operations Division, Denver Police.
“The Denver Police are proud to be recognized as a leader in Radiological Security and are committed to assisting other law enforcement agencies in the prevention of terrorism events.”
“The Denver 911 Communications Center is committed to its long-term partnership with the Office of Radiological Security and is proud to host new innovative notification and response tools to prevent a terrorism event in our community,” added Andrew Dameron, Director of Denver 911 Communications Center.
Building on Success
While the 2020 Cities Initiative resulted in tremendous progress, threats continue to evolve and more work remains to be done across the country to keep the public safe. ORS will build on this successful initiative by expanding its collaboration and partnerships into the many mid-size and small cities across the country.