Threat of Nuclear Terrorism: Ukrainian Realities

Not a single month goes by in the world without a terrorist act. Each time they become more cynical, bloody, and insidious. Worst of all, the methods used by terrorists take hundreds of lives of innocent people.

It is notorious that today Ukraine is one of the hot spots. One part of its territory is occupied and another area has been at war for the fourth year. In this regard, careful attention should be paid to the protection of strategic facilities in Ukraine. First of all, it concerns nuclear installations such as nuclear power plants and radioactive material storage facilities. Any terrorist acts at these facilities may lead to a catastrophe that will affect not only Ukraine, but also the entire world.

How ready is Ukraine to resist nuclear terrorism? Can a dirty bomb be used in modern Ukrainian realities? Is there appropriate physical protection of nuclear installations? We were fortunate enough to discuss these questions with international expert in nuclear and radiation safety field, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission representative Mr. Jack Ramsey.   

Jack Ramsey (U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission)

Mr. Ramsey, what can you tell us about the physical protection of nuclear installations?

– Ukraine has a competent, independent regulatory authority (the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine, SNRIU) that regulates physical protection of nuclear installations. SNRIU’s inspection and licensing activities help ensure the highest levels of security at nuclear installations in Ukraine. Of course, all nuclear regulatory authorities (including SNRIU and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission) protect as confidential any detailed information about the physical protection of nuclear installations.  Nonetheless, I’d like to note that the U.S. NRC and SNRIU have the ability to share, and have shared, information regarding best security practices that could be applied at our respective nuclear installations. For example, over the past few years, we have held several joint workshops to exchange such information.

Please, share your opinion on the likelihood of using a dirty bomb in Ukraine.

– In my opinion, Ukraine has advantages of preventing the use of a dirty bomb. Ukraine has a competent, independent regulatory authority that regulates the use of nuclear and radioactive material in Ukraine.  SNRIU experts have developed a national registry (a database) that identifies the users and locations of radioactive material in Ukraine.  As you would expect, this information is confidential. SNRIU experts also conduct extensive licensing and inspection activities for radioactive materials, including assessing physical protection measures. These measures help minimize the risk that radioactive materials might be diverted for use in a dirty bomb in Ukraine.  In addition, over the last decade, we have been working with SNRIU and other relevant authorities in Ukraine to identify locations with orphan radioactive sources. If an orphan radioactive source is found, the Ukrainian authorities can quickly retrieve this source and transfer it to a safe and secure location.  Ukrainian authorities also have the ability to detect radioactive sources throughout Ukraine. I recall a situation that happened a few years ago, when a man from the Chornobyl exclusion zone accidentally carried a small piece of radioactive material with him. The alarm systems actuated and the material was detected. The radioactive material was quickly retrieved and stored in a safe and secure location. Lastly, we are also supporting efforts by SNRIU to re-establish regulatory oversight and control of radioactive sources in Eastern Ukraine. Editorial Board