UN Chemical Weapons Probe, Military Burn Pits, Hospital Preparedness

Topics in this issue include medical services disaster preparedness, UN probe of chemical weapons use in Syria, and military burn pits on former chemical weapon sites.

In This Article

Emergency Preparedness

Proceedings From Workshop on Emergency Preparedness and Resiliency

In 2014, NFPA’s Research Foundation initiated a project to identify those provisions in NFPA codes and standards that embody the concepts of resiliency, compile available information to serve as a technical reference for those documents, and provide guidance to NFPA Technical Committees. NFPA >>

Can Health Care Providers Afford to Be Ready for Disaster?

MORE than 200 people died in hospitals and nursing homes in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, leading to widespread agreement that health care preparedness in the United States needed dramatic improvement. One hospital, Memorial Medical Center, was so undone that two desperate doctors later said that they hastened the deaths of patients who had waited days in the heat for rescue. NY Times >>

App Turns Phones Into Earthquake Detectors

US researchers have developed an app that uses networks of smartphones to detect earthquakes and could send out life-saving alerts. The free app, called MyShake and released on 12 February for Android users, could be useful in countries without conventional warning systems, say the developers at the University of California, Berkeley. SciDevNet >>


U.S. Had Cyberattack Plan if Iran Nuclear Dispute Led to Conflict

In the early years of the Obama administration, the U.S. developed an elaborate plan for a cyberattack on Iran in case the diplomatic effort to limit its nuclear program failed and led to a military conflict, according to a coming documentary film and interviews with military and intelligence officials involved in the effort. The plan, code-named Nitro Zeus, was devised to disable Iran’s air defenses, communications systems and crucial parts of its power grid. NY Times >>

Nuclear Energy

EDF to Keep Four UK Nuclear Plants Open for Years Longer

French energy firm EDF will extend the life of four of its eight nuclear power plants in the UK. The move will safeguard 2,000 jobs and help with tight energy supplies. The announcement comes amid concern about the amount of energy available to keep the lights on, due to the closure of many of Britain’s ageing power plants. BBC >>

Explosives, EOD & C-IED

Professor Designs Explosives Detector to Rival Dog’s Nose

A University of Rhode Island professor has developed a sensor that detects the kind of explosive used in the Paris bombings, to try to stop future attacks. Professor Otto Gregory compares his sensor to a dog’s nose, the gold standard in explosives detection. It “sniffs” the air for vapors emitted from explosives. R&D Magazine >>

Dogs’ New Challenge: Find a Bomb Before It Becomes a Bomb

Bomb-detecting dogs have to now learn to find the increasingly common improvised explosive devices (IED) that can be assembled from ingredients that are not dangerous by themselves. “So we’re now asking dogs not just to find a needle in a haystack, now the problem is more like saying to the dog ‘we need you to find any sharp object in the haystack,’ ” says Clive Wynne, a professor at Arizona State University. NPR >>

How to Operate on a Patient Who Might Explode

When faced with a patient carrying a potentially explosive object in a facial wound, the team worried an operation could cause the object to explode in the patient’s head, killing her and endangering the second-trimester fetus she was carrying. An explosion could also injure the surgical team, especially if the blast ignited flammable materials in the operating room. An explosives expert gave the team samples of bullets that were common in Afghanistan. The surgical team compared radiological images of them with ones they had of the object in the woman’s skull. NPR >>

Chemical & Biological Threats

US Military Burn Pits Built on Chemical Weapons Facilities Tied to Soldiers’ Illness

From the moment the US launched its campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Pentagon ordered the use of open-air burn pits to dispose of the wars’ massive volume of waste. The military relied heavily upon these sprawling ditches, which burned around the clock to consume the tens or even hundreds of tons of junk generated daily. By May 2003, according to Hickman, there were more than 250 burn pits at US bases peppered across the two nations. The Guardian >>

ISIS Has ‘Made and Deployed Chemical Weapons’, Says US Intelligence Official

Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, said “sulphur mustard” has been used in an alleged Isis attack in Syria and there are “numerous allegations” of Isis’ use of chemical weapons in both Syria and Iraq. In a report accompanying Mr. Clapper’s testimony on Capitol Hill before the Senate Armed Services on Tuesday he states: “We asses that non-state actors in the region are… using chemicals as a means of warfare.” Independent >>

UN to Probe 5 Serious Cases of Alleged Chemical Weapons Use in Syria

A United Nations team says it has zeroed in on five serious cases of alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria for further investigation, including chlorine gas and mustard gas. The team is part of the Joint Investigative Mechanism established last year after reports of as many as 116 incidents of chemical attacks in Syria against civilians since 2014. Voice of America >>

US Intelligence Head Warns of ISIS Chemical Attack Capability

Speaking alongside Robert Hannigan, the head of GCHQ, at an annual global security conference in Munich on Friday, James Clapper said the terror group has procured chemical weapons, and appears to have used them numerous times in its war to create its self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq. The Guardian >>

Chemical Exposure Prompts Medic Response

Three men at a Tukwila rail yard are reporting shortness of breath after being exposed to hazardous chemicals. Two of the men are being evaluated by medics on-scene. The other man was transported to Valley Medical Center. The chemicals appear to have come from a shipping container containing corrosive material. KIRO7 >>

Tests Show ISIS Used Mustard Gas in Iraq, Says Diplomat at Chemical Watchdog

Islamic State militants attacked Kurdish forces in Iraq with mustard gas in 2015, marking the first known use of chemical weapons in the country since the fall of Saddam Hussein, a diplomat has said after tests by the global chemical arms watchdog. The Guardian >>

“An Empty Feeling” Following CSB’s Report On West Fertilizer Disaster, and Eating My Words

A host of failures led to the explosion of fertilizer-grade ammonium nitrate (FGAN) at the West Fertilizer Company on April 17, 2013. This disaster led to the death of 15 people. That’s what I heard during the Chemical Safety Board’s (CSB) public meeting on January 28 at which their investigation report was released. The Pump Handle >>

Education & Training

New Dual Degree in Nonproliferation Studies

The Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (MIIS) has launched a new dual-degree program with Russian University, MGIMO (the Moscow State Institute of International Relations), focused on nonproliferation studies. Center for Nonproliferation Studies >>

Nuclear Weapons

Pentagon Portrays Nuclear Modernization as Response to Russia

The final defense budget of the Obama administration effectively crowns this administration as the nuclear modernization leader of post-Cold War U.S. presidencies. While official statements so far have mainly justified the massive nuclear modernization as simply extending the service-life of existing capabilities, the Pentagon now explicitly paints the nuclear modernization as a direct response to Russia. Federation of American Scientists >>

Taking Stock: The US-India Nuclear Deal 10 Years Later

A decade has passed since negotiations first began on the “US-India Civilian Nuclear Cooperation Agreement,” an accord that, when it was finally signed, gave India a waiver from the rules of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. In a nutshell, the act ended a 34-year ban on nuclear trade with India. Popularly known as the “US-India Nuclear Deal,” it was a watershed moment in the history of US-India relations. Bulletin of the Atomics Scientists >>

U.S. Defense Secretary Says UK Needs Nuclear Weapons for ‘Outsized’ World Role

A decision on replacing the ageing fleet of four submarines which carry nuclear warheads is due to be made this year and while Prime Minister David Cameron is committed to renewal, the issue has caused deep divisions in the opposition Labour Party. Reuters >>

Government & Legislation

Senate Votes to Tighten Sanctions on North Korea After Nuclear Activity

The US Senate voted unanimously on Wednesday to tighten economic sanctions on North Korea, seeking to punish the reclusive Asian country for its provocative recent nuclear test and rocket launch. The measure, which now must be reconciled with a similar House version that passed last month, would slap sanctions on any person or entity importing goods, technology or training related to weapons of mass destruction, or engaging in human rights abuses, US lawmakers said. The Guardian >>

Obama Budget Proposes Increased Funding for Chemical Safety Board

The Obama administration’s budget for fiscal year 2017 includes increased spending for several key safety agencies. If approved, the proposal would give the Chemical Safety Board, the independent federal agency charged with investigating chemical accidents, a $12.4 million operating budget — a bump of $1.4 million for the year. Other agency funding requests include $595 million for OSHA — an increase of $42 million — as well as $397.4 million for the Mine Safety and Health Administration — an increase of more than $20 million. >>

What the Nuclear Deal Means for Moderates in Iranian Politics

Iran’s parliamentary elections are two weeks away and the question surrounding them in the West is whether Iranian president Rouhani’s reform-leaning compatriots will be able to take advantage of the nuclear deal to strengthen its political positioning in Tehran. After all, some suggest, isn’t this what the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between the United States, its P5+1 negotiating partners, and Iran was all about? Brookings >>

Toward a Nuclear Suppliers Group Policy for States Not Party to the NPT

The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) needs a policy governing the participation of candidate states that are not parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The number of states that can supply NSG-listed items is growing faster than the NSG’s membership. When the NSG was created in 1975–1978, fewer than a dozen countries could produce controlled items. In response to globalized economic development and the spread of nuclear technologies beyond the few countries that established the NSG, since the 1990s NSG controls have also included dual-use nuclear goods. Carnegie Endowment >>

Recovery & Remediation

How is Fukushima’s Cleanup Going Five Years After Its Meltdown? Not So Well.

The No. 3 reactor building, which exploded in a hydrogen fireball during the disaster, remains a tangle of broken concrete and twisted metal. A smashed crane sits exactly where it was on March 11, 2011. To the side of the reactor units, a building that once housed boilers stands open to the shore, its rusted, warped tanks exposed. Washington Post >>

Radioactive Waste

Long-Term Cement Study Seeks Nuclear Waste Solution

UK scientists say they have produced a new mix of cement that should be much more effective at containing nuclear waste in a deep repository. The material develops mineral phases that readily trap radioactive isotopes trying to pass through it. Investigations at the atomic scale indicate the cement ought to retain this ability for at least 2,000 years. BBC >>

Inquiry Backs Plan to Store World’s Nuclear Waste in Outback Australia

The storage and disposal of used nuclear fuel from other countries is likely to deliver substantial economic benefits for South Australia, a royal commission into the nuclear fuel cycle has found. The report backed nuclear fuel storage and left the door open to further uranium mining and processing but came down against the use of nuclear power for electricity generation. The Guardian >>

UK Scientists Present ‘Groundbreaking’ Radwaste Research

Researchers are using Diamond Light Source’s Long-Duration Experiment (LDE) facility to study the way that cement – an important material used in the storage and disposal of radioactive waste – reacts with water as it becomes hydrated over a period of hundreds of years. The groundbreaking research could help shape future approaches to radioactive waste disposal. World Nuclear News >>

An Underground Fire, Radioactive Waste, and Governmental Failure

A landfill adjoined to the West Lake dump has experienced a growing underground fire for the past five years. The fire is estimated to be about 1,000 feet from the radioactive material. If the fire reaches the radioactive wastes, the St. Louis County emergency plan warns, there is the “potential for radioactive fallout to be released in the smoke plume and spread throughout the region.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists >>

Science & Technology

Extrusion Technique Creates New Fuel From Depleted Uranium

Advanced nuclear reactors will use new types of fuel. To ensure such systems are safe, experimental fuel samples must be fabricated and tested in safe research environments such as those at Idaho National Laboratory (INL). Marking an important step toward the advancement of a new type of reactor, INL employees recently completed the first successful test of fabrication equipment in the Experimental Fuels Facility (EFF). HSNW >>

Characterization of Actinides Complexed to Nuclear Fuel Constituents Using ESI-MS

Electrospray ionization-mass spectrometry (ESI-MS) was tested for its use in monitoring spent nuclear fuel (SNF) constituents including U, Pu, dibutyl phosphate (DBP), and tributyl phosphate (TBP). Both positive and negative ion modes were used to evaluate the speciation of U and Pu with TBP and DBP. Analytical Chemistry >>

Unmanned Systems

Cockroaches Inspire a New Breed of Disaster-Site, Battlefield Robots

Cockroaches may be one of the most universally reviled creatures on Earth but military researchers see real advantages in mimicking the insects while designing disaster-response robots. Their flexible exoskeletons allow them to compress their frames down to about a quarter of their size to navigate (and escape from) tight spaces, but they can also stretch out on the run, scampering at high speeds. Defense Systems >>

Critical Infrastructure Drone Restrictions

The House Transportation Committee, during their markup of HR 4441, the Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act of 2016, passed an amendment that would restrict small unmanned aircraft systems from flying over critical infrastructure facilities. CFSN >>

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Medical Countermeasures Research

NIAID Tests Pluristem’s Drug for Acute Radiation Syndrome