War on Terrorism

Friday, August 06, 2010

CBR Weapons and WMD Terrorism News, August 6, 2010

U.S. funds more anthrax vaccine research
"The U.S. government is giving second-year contract funding for development of medication for treatment of anthrax infection following a biowarfare attack. Elusys Therapeutics, Inc., a privately held biopharmaceutical company, said Wednesday the award for development of Anthim is from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, within the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The contract value is $40.6 million. The first-year award was $16.8 million, the company said. The potential value of the total 5-year contract could be as much as $143 million if the government exercises all contract options. [...] Elusys described Anthim as a high-affinity, humanized and deimmunized monoclonal antibody that targets the protective antigen of B. anthracis and neutralizes the lethal effects of anthrax toxins. It is being developed for prevention and treatment of inhalational anthrax following a biowarfare attack, it said." (United Press International; 04Aug10)

Pfenex gets $19m for anthrax vaccine
"The federal Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) has awarded funding that could be worth as much as $18.8 million to San Diego-based Pfenex to help develop an anthrax vaccine. The authority was established within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to manage the procurement and development of advanced medical countermeasures for biological, chemical, and other pervasive deadly agents. Pfenex, a 2009 spinout from Dow Chemical, uses a fluorescing bacteria in conjunction with advanced biotechnology tools to produce a variety of specialized protein-based drugs, vaccines, and other products." (San Diego Union-Tribune; 03Aug10; Bruce V. Bigelow)

Report urges genetic IDs for bioterror[ism] germs
"The nation's leading scientific advisory group said Tuesday that it is possible, and may be wise, to classify bioterror germs by their gene sequences in addition to their scientific names. The National Academy of Sciences' proposal also suggests adopting a 'yellow flag' plan to alert authorities when terrorists attempt to buy gene sequences taken from deadly bacteria or viruses and turn them into bioweapons. 'That capability exists today or will in the not-too-distant future,' says James Leduc, chairman of the committee that wrote the report and director of the Galveston National Laboratory at the University of Texas Medical Branch there. Many companies worldwide now sell synthetic DNA for scientific research. Researchers hope to harness custom-made microbes to make drugs, fuels and other materials. In May, researchers led by Craig Venter of J. Venter Genome Research Institute created the first living, replicating bacteria controlled by man-made genes. But researchers worry that synthetic biology may also be exploited by terrorists. The United States now regulates and limits access to 82 bacteria, viruses and toxins that pose a biosecurity threat. Identifying them and related microbes by their genetic sequences offers a 'brighter line' for distinguishing which ones represent trouble, the 197-page report says." (USA Today; 03Aug10; Steve Sternberg)

6 cities to train mail carriers to dispense anti-terror[ism] drugs
"The Postal Service is ready to deliver lifesaving drugs to about a quarter of the residents of Minneapolis-St. Paul, the only metropolitan area in the nation where letter carriers have been trained to dispense medication after a large-scale terrorist attack involving biological weapons. Six years after the government began exploring the idea of using postal workers as rapid-response medicine dispensers and eight months after President Obama ordered government agencies to develop a plan to do so, efforts are underway in six cities to train workers to deliver the drugs needed to counter anthrax or other potentially deadly agents, the White House says. The White House won't name the six cities, and Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Amy Kudwa says she can't talk about whether more cities are interested in the voluntary program. Cities are not required to adopt the plan, and most have separate plans in place to set up distribution centers in schools, community health centers and other government buildings where people can go to pick up drugs in the event of an attack. The White House, however, says using the Postal Service is a cost-effective and efficient way to create a reliable system for drug distribution in a crisis because postal workers can get drugs to the elderly and others who can't get out easily or wait in long lines. [...] The projected cost to set up the program and train postal workers: $1 million per city, according to the White House." (USA Today; 01Aug10; Mimi Hall)

Montgomery County creates public health district [TX]
"Montgomery County has created a public health district to ensure that residents continue to have access to vaccines, immunizations and screenings for communicable diseases that once were provided by the University of Texas Medical Branch. [...] Allen Johnson, the hospital district's chief executive officer, said the agency has been coordinating and planning regional responses to public health outbreaks, such as bioterrorism and smallpox. Overseeing public health services will enable the hospital district to streamline and conserve resources, Johnson said. [...] State law allows a county, municipalities and political subdivisions, such as a hospital district, to enter an agreement to form a public health district. In this case, the cities of Conroe and Panorama Village have joined with the county and the Montgomery County Hospital District. The county will give the hospital district $90,000 a year to provide health services, the same amount it paid UTMB. The county will continue to provide other health services, such as environmental health services, restaurant inspections and animal control services. Public health districts can receive state and federal grants. The Montgomery County Public Health District will get about $350,000 in grant money that UTMB used to receive to cover staff salaries, equipment and supplies, Johnson said." (Houston Chronicle; 30Jul10; Renee C. Lee)

Russia pushes back chemical weapons deadline
"Russia will delay its deadline for destroying chemical weapons stockpiles by as much as three years due to budget and technical problems, the Foreign Ministry said Tuesday. Under the international Chemical Weapons Convention, Russia was to eliminate all its chemical weapons by 2012. But the Interfax news agency cited the ministry as saying that because of the global financial crisis 'we have run into objective financial and technical difficulties which oblige us to extend by 2.5-3 years the period of concluding the liquidation.' The ministry confirmed the comments to The Associated Press, but did not elaborate. Officials in the United States, another treaty signatory, also have acknowledged they are likely to miss the 2012 deadline. The treaty obliges signatories to eliminate Class I weapons -- chemicals that have no use other than in armaments. Under the convention, Russia so far has destroyed 19,151 tons (21,000 short tons) of weapons chemicals, about 48 percent of the country's stockpiles, according to a statement from the government of the Kirov region, where one of Russia's three weapons-destruction facilities is located." (Associated Press; 03Aug10)

Old weapons dumped off Hawaii should stay put, Army says
"Chemical weapons dumped in deep water five miles south of Pearl Harbor after World War II should remain at the site because moving them could pose more of a threat to people and the environment, the Army says. Records show that the Army dumped 16,000 bombs at the site after the war; each of the bombs contained 73 pounds of the chemical agent mustard. J. C. King, the Army's assistant for munitions and chemical matters, said in a statement on Friday that the Army was reviewing a University of Hawaii study on the weapons that was released earlier in the week. Margo Edwards, a senior research scientist at the university, said the study showed that the munitions were not a hazard, but that they were deteriorating and should continue to be monitored. Ms. Edwards's team made 16 dives in submersible vehicles to depths of 2,000 feet over three years, and she said she saw more than 2,000 munitions on the ocean floor. The spots where the military has dumped chemical weapons off Hawaii are normally too deep to be reached by the public. They are also marked on nautical charts, and ships do not trawl in these areas." (New York Times; 31Jul10)

Third exercise on the delivery of assistance – ASSISTEX 3
"From 11-15 October 2010 the OPCW will conduct its third exercise on the delivery of assistance and protection to States Parties against the use of chemical weapons. The exercise, ASSISTEX 3, is being jointly planned with the Government of Tunisia and will be held at the 7 November Sport Complex at Rades, in Tunis. The scenario for this multilateral exercise will focus on the OPCW's response to a request for assistance by a State Party that has been threatened and attacked with chemical weapons. Participants will include specialised teams from Tunisia and 14 other OPCW States Parties*, from the OPCW Technical Secretariat in The Hague, and from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA). Members of the international media are invited to observe the second day of the Live Exercise phase of ASSISTEX 3 on Thursday, 14 October 2010. The Chemical Weapons Convention entered into force in 1997 and currently has 188 States Parties representing more than 98% of the world's population and chemical industry. The Convention aims to achieve a world free of chemical weapons by comprehensively prohibiting their development, production or use. All States Parties are obligated to destroy any chemical weapons and associated production facilities they may possess, and collectively, to ensure that toxic chemicals and their precursors are only used for peaceful purposes. The OPCW verifies compliance with these provisions with a stringent regime of inspections covering all military and industrial sites of relevance to the Convention." (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons; 03Aug10)

Labs study mustard agent samples [OH, TX]
"Two labs in Ohio and Texas are studying samples of liquid and vapor from the mustard agent stockpile at the Pueblo Chemical Depot. The tests will tell officials with the chemical demilitarization program what kinds of compounds are in the mustard agent before the weapons are destroyed. Destruction in a water neutralization plant is scheduled to start in 2015 but some weapons may be destroyed earlier in explosive chambers. State health department officials wanted to know what was in the agent prior to the destruction and what substances might escape when leaking weapons are found. Specially trained Army teams from Pueblo Chemical Depot and Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., worked together to get the vapor and liquid from mustard agent that has been at the depot since the 1980s. Lt. Col. Rob Wittig called the exercise 'a superbly coordinated and cooperative effort between the state and the Army in support of continued safe storage of the chemical stockpile and its ultimate destruction.' Wittig also said it allowed his technicians to get additional experience. 'It also gave us an excellent real-world opportunity to test our procedures for command and control, emergency response and oversight of chemical operations. We are all better prepared for the future because of this operation.'" (Pueblo Chieftain; 03Aug10; John Norton)

IAEA team reviews Chinese regulatory system
"A team of experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has completed a two-week peer review of China's governmental and regulatory framework for nuclear safety. The team concluded that the country's safety authorities will need more funds and staff to keep pace with its rapidly expanding nuclear industry. The review, carried out at the request of Chinese authorities, was conducted by a 22-strong team of experts from 15 different countries between 18 and 30 July. The team conducted an Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) mission, a peer review based on the IAEA safety standards. The IAEA stressed that the IRRS is not an inspection, nor an audit. The scope of the mission included the regulation of nuclear and radiation safety of the facilities and activities regulated by the Ministry of Environmental Protection's (MEP's) National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA). To observe Chinese regulatory activities, the IRRS team visited several nuclear facilities, including a nuclear power plant, a manufacturer of safety components for nuclear power plants, a research reactor, a fuel cycle facility, a waste management facility, industrial and medical radioactive sources and the nuclear and radiation accident emergency centre. [...] In a statement, the IAEA said that the review had provided 'confidence in the effectiveness of the Chinese safety regulatory system and the future safety of the vast expanding nuclear industry.' However, the team made a number of recommendations to improve the overall performance of China's regulatory system. It said that nuclear safety-related legislation and policies should be further enhanced for all nuclear activities, including radioactive waste management. In addition, regulatory bodies should be provided with greater flexibility and resources, both financial and human, to keep pace with China's nuclear development programme." (World Nuclear News; 02Aug10)

Georgia finds 'forgotten' plutonium
"Georgian scientists discovered unused, radioactive plutonium-beryllium that had been 'forgotten' for 42 years at a laboratory in Tbilisi, Giorgi Nabakhtiani, nuclear and radioactive specialist at Georgia's Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources, said Saturday. The plutonium-beryllium was found in a 'special container stored in wax and lead, which was quite safe and presented no danger for the environment,' Nabakhtiani said, adding that 'the substance has now been removed and stored at a special unit.' Though plutonium-beryllium may be used to create a so-called dirty bomb, there was not enough of the substance at the Tbilisi lab to do so, Nabakhtiani said. The material 'was likely forgotten for several decades after it was brought to the laboratory for a special test,' he said." (Moscow Times; 02Aug10)

A quarter century after Chernobyl: radioactive boar on the rise in Germany
"As Germany's wild boar population has skyrocketed in recent years, so too has the number of animals contaminated by radioactivity left over from the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown. Government payments compensating hunters for lost income due to radioactive boar have quadrupled since 2007. [...] According to the Environment Ministry in Berlin, almost €425,000 ($555,000) was paid out to hunters in 2009 in compensation for wild boar meat that was too contaminated by radiation to be sold for consumption. That total is more than four times higher than compensation payments made in 2007. [...] Many of the boar that are killed land on the plates of diners across Germany, but it is forbidden to sell meat containing high levels of radioactive caesium-137 -- any animals showing contamination levels higher than 600 becquerel per kilogram must be disposed of. But in some areas of Germany, particularly in the south, wild boar routinely show much higher levels of contamination. According to the Environment Ministry, the average contamination for boar shot in Bayerischer Wald, a forested region on the Bavarian border with the Czech Republic, was 7,000 becquerel per kilogram. Other regions in southern Germany aren't much better. Germany's Atomic Energy Law, which regulates the use of nuclear energy in the country, mandates that the government in Berlin pay compensation to hunters who harvest contaminated animals. [...] In addition, for the last year and a half, Bavarian hunters have been testing ways to reduce the amount of caesium-137 absorbed by wild boar. A chemical mixture known as Giese salt, when ingested, has been shown to accelerate the excretion of the radioactive substance. Giese salt, also known as AFCF, is a caesium binder and has been used successfully to reduce radiation in farm animals after Chernobyl. According to Joachim Reddemann, an expert on radioactivity in wild boar with the Bavarian Hunting Federation, a pilot program in Bavaria that started a year and a half ago has managed to significantly reduce the number of contaminated animals." (Spiegel Online; 30Jul10; Charles Hawley)

Russia moves radioactive material from nuclear site [Sarov]
"Russian authorities have been forced to remove radioactive material from a top secret nuclear research facility to protect it from encroaching wildfires, the country's nuclear chief said Wednesday. Sergei Kiriyenko, head of Russia's nuclear agency, however reassured that there was no danger to nuclear security. 'All explosive and radioactive materials have been taken away,' he told a meeting with President Dmitry Medvedev. 'I can guarantee that even in an extreme situation with squalling winds there is no danger to nuclear security, no threat of radiation, explosions, or environmental consequences,' he added. The nuclear facility in Sarov, a city still closed to foreigners, lies in the central Nizhny Novgorod region, east of Moscow, which is one the the areas worst hit by the wildfires." (Agence France-Presse; 04Aug10)

HSE [Health and Safety Executive] to inspect Atomic Weapons Establishment after fire
"Health and safety investigators are to inspect an atomic weapons base after fire broke out inside a bunker. The fire started at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) in Aldermaston, Berkshire, on Tuesday. A worker was injured and people living close to the site, which maintains warheads for the UK's nuclear deterrent, Trident, were evacuated. The Health and Safety Executive said it had started a preliminary investigation with its internal teams into the cause. A 600m (650yd) cordon was put up around the site following the fire, which broke out within a non-nuclear explosives area, on Tuesday night. A spokesman for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said a team from its hazardous installations directorate was taking the lead. Inspectors will carry out assessments in the concrete bunker on the site where the fire started. AWE said there were no radiological implications as a result of the incident. An independent investigation into the cause of the fire has been commissioned by AWE, and all findings will be made available to its independent regulators, the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate." (British Broadcasting Corporation; 05Aug10)

RADStickerTM, a $2 peel-&-stick postage stamp sized radiation dosimeter you can carry 24/7 is now available
"JP Labs, the pioneer of award winning SIRAD® technology, introduces RADSticker, a peel-&-stick, postage stamp sized, instantly color developing (see video and images) casualty dosimeter that is affordable by everyone (~$2 or less in quantity). This casualty dosimeter is always ready and can be with you in the event of a future radiation emergency, such as a nuclear or dirty bomb explosion, nuclear power plant accident or mishandling of radiation sources. It requires no power and has no electronics or moving parts. [...] RADSticker is produced under USP # 7,227,158; 7,476,874 and others. The SIRAD® technology was developed with multimillion dollar funding from several US agencies, such as DHS, DOJ, DOS, DOD, DHHS and TSWG and was field tested by the DHS with 800 first responders for eight months in the states of NJ, NY and IL." (PR Web; 04Aug10)

Legislators decry lack of cargo scanning by sea
"TSA [Transportation Security Administration] meanwhile claims progress on another 9/11 Act mandate to screen US-bound air cargo. US lawmakers Tuesday panned resistance at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to meet a mandate to scan 100 percent of US-bound seagoing cargo, while the department claimed significant progress on a separate requirement to screen air cargo coming into the country. On the third anniversary of the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 (Public Law 110-53), three congressmen, led by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), criticized the lack of a DHS plan to meet the sea cargo scanning requirement, which is intended to detect illicit smuggling of radiological threats onboard US-bound vessels. [...] Thompson and Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) wrote to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano Tuesday to decry the department's continued push to extend or override the 2012 statutory deadline for 100 percent scanning of cargo containers leaving foreign ports for the United States." (Homeland Security Today; 04Aug10; Mickey Mccarter)

U.N. calls on Iraq to take steps to end sanctions
"The U.N. Security Council called on Iraq Thursday to address all outstanding issues related to Kuwait, oil-for-food program contracts, and disarmament so it can cancel sanctions and more than 70 resolutions adopted after the 1990 invasion of Kuwait. [...] In May 2003, weeks after the U.S. invaded Iraq, the council lifted economic sanctions against Iraq, opening the country to international trade and investment and allowing oil exports to resume. In June 2004, it lifted an embargo on the sale of conventional weapons to the government. But there are still limits on some activities related to the possible production of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and missiles with a range of more than 150 kilometers (90 miles) are still banned. [...] He said Iraq had expected -- and still expects -- the Security Council to lift all restrictions on disarmament, weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles because of the many steps the country has already taken. He cited a letter in March from the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency informing Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of the government's 'excellent cooperation' on nuclear inspections. Al-Bayati said the government, in addition, has decided to voluntarily adhere to strengthened nuclear safeguards, adopt the additional NPT protocol, and set up a committee of experts to liquidate chemical residues from the country's former chemical weapons program. It also decided to join the ballistic missile code and adopted 'a strict mechanism' to control so-called dual-use items which can be used for both civilian and military purposes, he said." (Associated Press; 05Aug10; Edith M. Lederer)

WMD terrorism remains grave threat, U.S. says
"The possibility that a terrorist organization might launch a WMD attack remains one of the 'gravest threats' to the security of the United States and its allies, the U.S. State Department said yesterday in its annual terrorism report. The 'Country Reports on Terrorism 2009' addressed the threat of terrorism involving chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons and Washington's response to those dangers. The State Department noted that al-Qaeda and other extremist groups have expressed interest in acquiring nuclear weapons. 'The diffusion of scientific and technical information regarding the [assembly] of nuclear weapons, some of which is now available on the Internet, has increased the risk that a terrorist organization in possession of sufficient fissile material could develop its own crude nuclear weapon,' the report says. 'The complete production of a nuclear weapon strongly depends on the terrorist group's access to special nuclear materials as well as engineering and scientific expertise.' Due to the proliferation efforts of 'irresponsible countries' like North Korea, 'the number of potential sources of an unsecured nuclear weapon or materials is challenging worldwide efforts to control and account for nuclear material,' according to the State Department. Extremists could also look to underground smuggling networks and international criminal organizations for aid in acquiring or developing anuclear devices, the report says." (Global Security Newswire; 06Aug10)

Lawmakers tackle gaping flaws in WMD attack preparedness
"A Senate Judiciary subcommittee will assess government preparedness for a terrorist attack with weapons of mass destruction in the wake of a report calling Justice Department planning inadequate. The Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security will hear testimony Wednesday from senior Justice Department and Homeland Security officials concerning the ability of the United States to prevent as well as respond to an attack using a WMD. The hearing comes after several damning reports about the country's ability to prevent such an attack, including a report card this year from a blue-ribbon commission that gave the White House three failing grades on WMD preparedness. On top of this, the intelligence and security lapses that preceded a string of recent domestic attacks -- the deadly shooting at Fort Hood and failed bombing attempts on Northwest Flight 253 over Detriot on Christmas and on Times Square -- have done little to inspire confidence from homeland security hawks in Congress." (The Hill: Washington, D.C.; 31Jul10; Andrew Stiles)

CNS ChemBio-WMD Terrorism News is prepared by the Chemical and Biological Weapons Nonproliferation Program of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in order to bring timely and focused information to researchers and policymakers interested in the fields of chemical, biological, and radiological weapons nonproliferation and WMD terrorism.

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