In October 2006, a North London man pled guilty to conspiring to set off a “dirty bomb” at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank buildings in Washington and the headquarters of the New York Stock Exchange. A dirty bomb uses conventional explosives to disperse radiological materials over large areas. While these weapons may not be the most lethal, they are attractive to terrorists because they are not that technologically sophisticated and they can cause mass panic and major economic disruptions due to clean-up times and costs. Obviously, one of the keys to foiling any dirty bomb attack is good intelligence. But the most effective strategy is to keep radiological material from getting into the wrong hands in the first place. Brian Waud is leading the effort to cut off the threat of a dirty bomb attack at the source, and his efforts have directly led to the elimination of enough radioactive material to make more than 2,300 dirty bombs.
Brian Waud is a Foreign Affairs Specialist with the Department of Energy. More specifically he works with the National Nuclear Security Administration on its International Radiological Threat Reduction Initiative. This position has taken him to the world’s largest potential source for radioactive material – Russia and the former Soviet territories.
The Russian coastline is filled with abandoned radiation sources, in particular radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs). Each RTG contains enough dangerous radioactive material to make 15 to 100 dirty bombs.
Brian Waud’s job was to oversee U.S. technical experts and a Russian company that actually carried out the removal of these generators, which required deft management skills, a superior team, and remarkable perseverance. Waud had to travel to extremely remote areas of Russia with his team and Russian counterparts. To recover one RTG, he had to take a helicopter to an island where he would board a boat that would take them out to a more remote island where the RTG was located. On another trip to one of the coldest and most isolated areas of Russia, Waud got seasick and lost 20 pounds when the team encountered a severe storm with up to 30-foot waves. Nevertheless, he considered himself lucky in comparison to the Russian team’s encounter with several polar bears during the preceding weeks. Through it all, Waud never stopped working to complete his mission.
Under Waud’s leadership, 130 RTG’s were removed and secured from 2004 to 2006. An additional 53 are scheduled to be removed in 2007.
In addition to these efforts to secure RTGs, Waud has worked to identify and recover high-activity orphan radiological sources. In only three years, his teams’ hard work has led to the recovery of more than 380,000 Curies worth of radiological material from 27 locations in Russia, including 5,500 Curies of dangerous radioactive material from Chechnya.
Altogether, Waud and his team helped secure enough radiological material to make more than 2,300 dirty bombs.
But Brian Waud’s work on this issue is not done. Radioactive material poses a threat to all nations, and Waud’s success has encouraged other countries to contribute financially to the ongoing cleanup efforts in Russia. In particular, Canada recently donated $1.7 million to support this cause.
Amidst all these numbers – 2,300, 380,000, 1.7 million – perhaps the most impressive number regarding Brian Waud is 32, which happens to be his age. Helping to permanently reduce the threat of terrorist attack by removing vulnerable and high-risk radiological materials is an impressive accomplishment for any public servant. It is truly remarkable for someone his age with only four years of government experience. Watching to see what he does next will surely be interesting.