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NSWG Congressional Nuclear Fellows Highlight Nuclear Terrorism Risk 

Bipartisan group of legislators attend briefing by nuclear security experts

Terrorist groups have more access to safe haven and nuclear expertise than in the past, but access to nuclear materials is getting harder, argued terrorism and nuclear experts at a March 17 briefing on Capitol Hill. Organized by the inaugural class of NSWG Congressional Nuclear Security Fellows, the briefing featured Georgetown University terrorism expert Dr. Bruce Hoffman and Nuclear Threat Initiative President and CEO Joan Rohlfing. The Hon. Joyce Connery of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board moderated.

In opening remarks to a standing-room only audience Reps. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), Pete Visclosky (D-IN), and Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN) reiterated their shared commitment to sustaining bipartisan awareness and expertise on nuclear security in the Congress. Fortenberry and Visclosky are Co-Chairs, and Fleischmann is a principal member, of the Congressional Nuclear Security Working Group, which is NSWG’s partner in the Congressional Fellowship program. Congressman Don Beyer (D-VA) attended the briefing and echoed the CNSWG leaders’ remarks in the discussion.


(Rep. Jeff Fortenberry)

NSWG Nuclear Security Fellows Minsu Crowder-Han (in Fleischmann’s office) and Nate Sans (in Visclosky’s office) organized the briefing with the extensive assistance of Brett Broderick, a Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board staffer serving as a fellow for Congressman Fortenberry. Crowder-Han, Sans, and Broderick identified the ongoing nuclear terror threat as a critical area for bipartisan Congressional focus.


(Rep. Pete Visclosky)

Although the United States and other countries have made significant progress toward securing the most dangerous nuclear materials, such as those that could be used to make a nuclear weapon, terrorist groups have become more successful at recruiting operatives with science and engineering backgrounds, Hoffman said. The expansion of new terrorist organizations like ISIS into more countries, as well as the continued threat from Al-Qaeda affiliates makes ensuring the safety and security of nuclear materials a more challenging task than ever.

Rohlfing added that terrorist groups would probably look to relatively easy-access radiological materials that could be used to be make a dirty bomb, which would spread radiation in a potentially wide area. She focused her remarks on Cesium-137, which is used in over 800 hospitals in the United States. The amount of Cesium-137 contained in a single blood irradiator is sufficient for a dirty bomb. The FDA has approved a blood irradiation method that does not use Cesium-137.



(NTI President Joan Rohlfing)

The briefing was first in a series of events on critical nuclear security challenges to be convened by the CNSWG with the help of NSWG Congressional Fellows. NSWG Fellows are part of a new initiative, made possible with the financial support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, to cultivate and grow a bipartisan constituency for pragmatic nuclear security policy in the US Congress. For more about the NSWG Congressional Fellowship, visit the NSWG website.