NBC Weapons: Finding The Rod Of Death In The Texas Desert

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: NUCLEAR, BIOLOGICAL AND CHEMICAL WEAPONS

September 25, 2012: U.S. Army reserve (National Guard) units in Texas have been mobilized to use their radiation detection equipment to find a missing (since September 11th) piece of radioactive natural gas drilling equipment. The item in question is a 177mm (7 inch) long rod containing radioactive elements (americium-241/beryllium). This stuff is not highly radioactive, just enough to be useful in finding natural gas deposits underground. If someone stayed in close proximity (within 7 meters/21 feet) to the unshielded rod for several hours they would begin to suffer some radiation poisoning. The rod went missing somewhere along a 200 kilometers stretch of desert highway in southwest Texas and the oil drilling company crews sent to find the rod failed to detect it. The military grade radiation detectors used by the National Guard should be able to find it, unless someone picked it up and moved it far away from the highway. The rod is clearly marked as radioactive and dangerous.

The reason National Guard troops have powerful radiation detection equipment is because it was long ago realized that this sort of capability is best handled locally. But the federal government keeps pushing for more CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear) capabilities. For example, five years ago the Department of Defense planned to form over a hundred special CBRN  warfare response units. These were to be called CMRF (Consequence Management Response Force) units. Most (about 80 percent) of the 15,000 troops would be reservists (most of them National Guard). In the event of terrorists using Chemical, Biological, Radiological, or Nuclear weapons in the United States, one or more of these units would be sent to the site of the attack, along with their specialized equipment, to deal with the aftereffects and contain the damage. Not all these units were formed but many were and one is in Texas (the 6th CBRN Task Force).

The idea of this kind of CBRN capability has been knocking around since the 1990s. This idea got rolling after the 1995 nerve gas attack, by the Aum Shinrikyo group in the Tokyo subways. In the late 1990s, there was a proposal to use National Guard and Reserve troops to form ten Rapid Assessment and Initial Detection (RAID) teams. Each would have 22 troops trained and equipped to deal with CBRN attacks. Arguments over how many teams would be formed, how they would be paid for, who would supply the personnel, and how effective the teams would be stalled progress. Meanwhile, most large urban areas already had specialists who could handle this sort of thing and they wanted more money so they could do it better and faster. Meanwhile, some teams were formed just before, and after, September 11, 2001. But politics (Congress wanted at least one team per state, no matter where the real risks were) and disputes over training, equipment, and readiness have delayed much progress on federal teams.

The main responsibility for creating a quick response to CBRN attacks always resides with local governments. The military CBRN units, including the ones that already exist, have increased in number over the last decade and received more equipment. The Department of Defense CBRN units are simply another addition to an effort that has been going on for decades.

 


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