VX Nerve Agent Murder, WC-135 Nuke Sniffer, New Sandia Leadership

Topics in this issue of CBRNE Particles include reports of VX nerve agent use in assassination, Bill Gates on pandemic preparedness, and a spotlight on the WC-135 nuke sniffer plane.


VX Murder in Kuala Lumpur?

According to an overnight statement by the Malaysian police, Kim Jong Nam—half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un—was assassinated with the nerve agent VX at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. As the information stands right now, the Malaysian police’s claim is remarkable for what it does not say… The Trench >>

What to Make of Kim Jong-Nam

“I have to admit that VX was a surprise to the editorial office. A variety of chats had resulted in the smug conclusion, based on the extremely limited facts available, that it was likely to be a fentanyl derivative. We were looking for something that would cause a rapid inhalational onset of death, burns to the face and for which it would be very difficult to get an antidote. I and other armchair toxicologists felt jowl wigglingly secure in this diagnosis.” CBRNe World >>

The Use of Deadly VX Makes Kim Jong-Nam’s Murder Even More Shocking

VX is the most deadly nerve agent and chemical weapon yet produced: a drop the size of a pinhead is enough to kill a person. It was developed in the 1950s as a military weapon of mass destruction, but most of its stocks have been destroyed under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) – though many believe that Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria still has some and that Islamic State may have acquired some for their own use. The Guardian >>

Trump Administration Poised to Collide with Russia Over Syrian Chemical Weapons

The Trump administration is headed toward a diplomatic confrontation with Moscow at the United Nations, as the United States, Britain, and France pressed for the passage of a resolution sanctioning Syria’s use of chemical weapons in the face of a certain Russian veto. Foreign Policy >>

Presidential Envoy Says Chemical Weapons Disposal in Russia Ahead of Schedule

The chemical weapons disposal at the Kizner facility in Russia’s Republic of Udmurtia is ahead of schedule, Chairman of the State Commission on Chemical Disarmament Mikhail Babich said on Friday. On January 13, 1993, Russia signed the Chemical Weapons Convention, declaring around 40,000 tons of chemical warfare agents. The disposal of chemical weapons began in December 2002 in accordance with the federal target program adopted in March 1996, over 279B rubles (roughly $4.7B) have been spent for implementing this program. TASS Russian News Agency >>

AP Explains: What Chemical Weapons Does N. Korea Possess

North Korea has been producing chemical weapons since the 1980s and is now estimated to have as many as 5,000 tons, according to a biennial South Korean defense white paper. Its stockpile, one of the world’s largest, reportedly has 25 types of agents, including sarin, mustard, tabun and hydrogen cyanide. It also is thought to have nerve agents, such as the VX allegedly used by two women — one Vietnamese and the other Indonesian — to kill the North Korean leader’s half brother, Kim Jong Nam. ABC News >>

U.N. Security Council to Vote on Syria Sanctions Over Chemical Weapons: Diplomats

The United Nations Security Council will likely vote on a resolution to blacklist 11 Syrian military commanders and officials over chemical weapons attacks as early as next week, diplomats said on Thursday. The draft resolution also seeks to ban the sale or supply of helicopters to the Syrian government and to blacklist 10 government and related entities involved in the development and production of chemical weapons and the missiles to deliver them. Reuters >>

What is VX Nerve Agent? A Deadly Weapon, Rarely Seen

The VX molecule interferes with the way glands and muscles function by blocking an enzyme that allows them to relax. That causes muscles to clench uncontrollably and, eventually, prevents a victim from being able to breathe. The lethal dose for VX ranges from about 10 milligrams via skin contact to 25 to 30 milligrams if inhaled. Early symptoms can include pinprick pupils, runny nose, wheezing and muscle twitching. Death can occur anywhere from within a few minutes to hours, depending on the dose and the method of contact. New York Times >>


Biological Weapons Convention Newsletter

The BWC Implementation Support Unit has prepared this brief newsletter in line with its mandate to facilitate communication among States Parties and to serve as a focal point for the sharing of information related to the BWC. UNOG >>

Bill Gates on Pandemics: When Nature is a Terrorist

In 2001, bioterrorism was suddenly a very real security problem. After the anthrax attacks that year, the United States spent billions of dollars to develop and stockpile medical countermeasures and build warning systems. But in the years that followed, the villain that appeared to cause death and illness was not a bioterrorist, but Mother Nature, in a series of naturally occurring outbreaks: severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS; swine flu; and Ebola, among others.  Washington Post >>

CDC Reviewing Air Quality Associated with Air Hoses in Some Laboratories

On February 13, 2017, CDC learned from the company that now owns the manufacturer that their current stock of air hoses attached to protective suits worn in its Biosafety Level-4 labs as not certified to be used for breathing air. CDC has suspended laboratory work that involves the use of these air hoses during the review period. Laboratory scientists working in the BSL-4 labs have been briefed and will provide input to the review. CDC >>


A Preventable Nuclear Threat You Most Likely Don’t Know About

Since construction was announced in 2011, the Astravets reactor has been plagued by a series of accidents—including the deaths of contractors, and the fall of the 330-ton reactor casing from a height of four meters. Nuclear power is a sore subject in a region still contaminated by radioactive fallout.  “Many people will never forget that April weekend when the Chernobyl reactor exploded,” explained Auste Valinciute, a Ph.D candidate at the Vilnius University. National Geographic >>

Sorry, ‘Sniffer’ Fans: WC-135 Isn’t Smelling Russian Nukes

The U.S. Air Force’s WC-135 Constant Phoenix aircraft, capable of detecting nuclear explosions, deployed to the United Kingdom last week for a routine mission, the service said Wednesday. The “nuke hunter” plane, also known as the “sniffer,” is on a “pre-planned rotational deployment scheduled in advance,” Air Force spokeswoman Erika Yepsen told DoD Buzz >>

The 1950s Called. It Wants Its Atomic War Plans Back

As the theory goes, using low-yield nuclear weapons against an adversary’s conventional forces will demonstrate that you mean serious business and might be crazy enough to launch an all-out nuclear attack. This will cause the enemy to “blink” and ultimately back down, rather than risk global thermonuclear war or continue conventional hostilities. War Is Boring >>

Flood-Prevention Steps Discovered Lacking at 10 Nuclear Power Plants

Flood-prevention measures are lacking at 10 nuclear power plants — especially at connecting sections — utilities’ inspections have revealed. The results of the ordered inspections were reported at Wednesday’s regular meeting of the Nuclear Regulation Authority. Japan Times >>

Supercritical CO2, Molten Salt Could Stop a Nuclear Meltdown Before It Begins

Researchers are working towards different ways to eliminate the risk of nuclear meltdowns, with automatic methods such as a heat removal system using so-called supercritical CO2, a state where the chemical has properties of both a gas and a liquid, and the use of molten salt. The supercritical CO2 approach effectively removes heat build-up from a core without the requirement of external power sources, meaning it could work if the power is somehow cut, for example, during a natural disaster. EU Horizon >>


NIOSH Director Denies Sixth Petition to Add Autoimmune Diseases to WTC List

Dr. John Howard, administrator of the World Trade Center Health Program and director of NIOSH, has denied a petition seeking to have autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, added to the List of WTC-Related Health Conditions. Occupational Health & Safety >>

Meet the New Incoming Leadership at Sandia Labs

Come May 1, Sandia National Laboratories’ new 10-person leadership team will bring more than three centuries’ worth of combined experience to the table. Almost half of them have worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory, including the upcoming director. Albuquerque Business First >>

Cannabis Valued at $1.2 Million Found in UK Nuclear Bunker

Police in the United Kingdom discovered a large cannabis factory after raiding a nuclear bunker on Thursday. The value of the crop they recovered was estimated at over £1 million ($1.2 million). Police in the county of Wiltshire say they arrested six people during a midnight raid on RGHQ Chilmark, an underground nuclear bunker built in the 1980s to protect government officials and local dignitaries in case of a nuclear attack. CNN >>

Seeking Input on Emergency Preparedness Resources at the 2017 Preparedness Summit

NORC at the University of Chicago is seeking public health professionals to contribute their thoughts and help advance the capacity of emergency preparedness during the 2017 Preparedness Summit. NACCHO >>

Saving Marie Curie’s Last Radium Standard

In 1910, she was asked by her peers to prepare the world’s first radium standard: a glass ampoule containing 21.99 milligrams of radium chloride, whose mass and radioactivity had been carefully measured. Because scientists urgently needed such standards to support their studies of radioactivity, Czech/Austrian chemist Otto Hönigschmid was also asked to prepare a set of seven secondary standards. Marie Curie calibrated these secondary standards against her primary standard. In December 1913, Secondary Standard No. 6, containing 20.28 milligrams of radium chloride, was delivered to the National Bureau of Standards, now known as the National Institute of Standards and Technology. NIST >>

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