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U.S. Rep. Clarke Introduces Bill to Prevent Dirty Bomb Attacks

Prior to Congress adjourning for recess, U.S. Representative Yvette D. Clarke (D-NY) introduced the Radiological Materials Security Act (H.R. 5624) to prevent dirty bomb attacks in the United States. A terrorist attack using a dirty bomb has the potential to take many lives and cause hundreds of billions of dollars in damage.

“The Radiological Materials Security Act would provide the tools and resources to ensure these materials remain secure,” said Rep. Clarke. “Because this is a low-technology threat that does not require extensive technical knowledge to execute, we must be vigilant in preventing individuals with ill intentions to get a hold of these dangerous materials.”

As the only member from New York City on the Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Clarke recognizes the immediate threat from unsecured radiological materials being abused. Dirty bombs can be created with relative ease by using radiological materials located in most major cities, making covert smuggling unnecessary for terrorists to launch an attack.

Original cosponsors of this bill are Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, Rep. James Langevin (D-RI), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Emerging Threats, Cybersecurity, and Science and Technology, Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), Chair of the Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing, and Terrorism Risk Assessment, and Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-NY), Chairwoman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs.

“These materials are an attractive terrorist target because they are currently not well protected and not difficult to steal,” Rep. Thompson stated. “However, a relatively small investment in security equipment and procedures could quickly and significantly increase the security of these materials. That is the intent of this legislation.”

Said Rep. Harman: “Detonation of a dirty bomb in Manhattan would shut down much of the city of New York for decades. We know terrorists have expressed interest in obtaining radiological materials.  This bill addresses a major vulnerability.”

A comprehensive solution would require coordination between the Department of Homeland Security, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Department of Energy, and other agencies to work together in securing at-risk radiological materials throughout the U.S.  The Energy Policy Act of 2005 gave jurisdiction to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and an inter-agency working group, but their efforts thus far have been inadequate in ensuring that terrorists do not gain access to radiological materials.

“For too long the threat of a dirty bomb attack has been ignored.  This legislation will shore up existing vulnerabilities and help ensure these materials never make their way to those who wish to harm us,” Rep. Langevin said.

“Recent information demonstrates that this threat may be greater than ever in cities across the country,” Rep. Clarke added. “So far, not nearly enough has been done to prevent dirty bomb attacks.”

This bill would require the Department of Homeland Security to complete a comprehensive risk assessment, taking into account information on the threat, vulnerability, and consequences of a dirty bomb attack. It would also require the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, with the support of experts in the Department of Energy and other agencies, to implement best practices that have already proven cost effective in New York City. In addition, it would authorize grants to entities that possess dangerous radiological materials to be secured on an expedited basis.

“The consequences of a dirty bomb detonating in a metropolitan area are almost unthinkable.  We can and should do more to secure materials that could be used to produce them,” Rep. Lowey said. “I commend Rep. Clarke for working to protect our cities, and I will work on the Appropriations and Homeland Security Committees to ensure that we devote resources sufficient to address the magnitude of this threat.”

Rep. Clarke represents New York’s 11th Congressional District located in central Brooklyn.