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New program targets dirty bombs

John Heilprin Associated Press

WASHINGTON – The Energy Department is creating a $450 million program to collect, secure and dispose of used reactor fuel and other materials from around the world that could be used by terrorists in “dirty bombs” for spreading radiation over several city blocks.

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said the first priority was to bring back to the United States some 330 tons of Russian-origin high enriched uranium by the end of 2005. More than 220 tons has been eliminated so far. All Russian spent fuel would be recovered by 2010.

Abraham pledged more than $450 million for the program, according to remarks prepared for a speech today to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Austria. A copy of the speech was obtained Tuesday by the Associated Press.

“Where 100 years ago authorities had to worry about the anarchist placing a bomb in the downtown square,” Abraham said, “now we must worry about the terrorist who places that bomb in the square, but packed with radiological material.”

A dirty bomb, which would use conventional explosives to spread radiation, has no atomic chain reaction and does not require highly enriched uranium or plutonium. Both are difficult to obtain and normally are under extremely tight security.

Instead, the radioactive component is of lower-grade isotopes, such as those used in medicine or research. If a dirty bomb were to be detonated, the radiation release probably would be small.

“It has become clear that an even more comprehensive and urgently focused effort is needed to respond to emerging and evolving threats,” Abraham said. “Moreover, we are prepared to spend the resources necessary to guarantee success.”

“But we will need more funds, and heightened international cooperation, to finish the job,” he said.

The program’s other priorities are to:

Relocate within a decade all U.S.-origin research reactor spent fuel from around the world.

Abraham said the new global program would reduce the proliferation threat by cutting off access to materials and equipment by “whatever the most appropriate circumstance may be, as quickly and expeditiously as possible.”

By handling problems that require attention anywhere in the world, he said, officials will make sure that nuclear and radiological materials and equipment “will not fall into the hands of those with evil intentions.”

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