NEWS

Athens’s nuclear shield

ATHENS – A UN atomic agency envoy said yesterday the group was working to safeguard the Athens Olympics from an attack involving a nuclear or dirty bomb and thanked the United States for providing vital radiation detection equipment. Anita Nilsson, director of nuclear security for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said recent terrorist attacks had shown that the use of such weapons by terrorist groups could not be ruled out. She also said the international cooperation to protect the August 13-29 Games from possible nuclear threats has served as a «model” for future international events. «Recent events show that there is no limit to the terrible actions that terrorists and other criminals may pursue given the opportunity. This unprecedented joint project aims to ensure a high level of nuclear security at the 2004 summer Olympic Games with effective and efficient measures to protect against such acts,» Nilsson said. As part of the precautions being taken, US Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham provided Greece yesterday with radiation detection equipment worth more than $26 million. «I am transferring to Greece an array of high-level radiation detection devices. They will supplement the extraordinary security apparatus at the Olympics,» Abraham said as he delivered some of the equipment. Permanent detectors will be installed at 32 airports and seaports and Olympic sports venues. Portable equipment will be given to police and border guards, customs officers and the coast guard. «They will help detect, deter and interdict nuclear smuggling. In this age of unprecedented terrorism, all civilized nations must cooperate to the fullest extent possible to ensure the safety and well-being of our citizens,» Abraham said. In statement, the IAEA said in Vienna that the equipment will be «deployed to detect radioactive materials that might be used as a weapon by terrorists in a radiological dispersal device, a so-called dirty bomb.» «There has been good cooperation with the Greek Atomic Energy Commission and with the other international partners in developing and implementing this work,» said Mohammed ElBaradei, director general of the IAEA. «We are collectively striving for a high measure of security.» The head of the Greek Atomic Energy Commission, Leonidas Kamarinopoulos, said there was little chance a dirty bomb would be used. Authorities, however, were taking no chances. A dirty bomb is a bomb wrapped in radioactive material and designed to irradiate its target. «The consequences to human life from a device to spread radioactive material are very small, much smaller in comparison to the consequences from a chemical or biological incident, or even a conventional explosion,» Kamarinopoulos said. In March, a two-week multinational security exercise tested efforts to safeguard the Games from a host of possible threats, ranging from hijackings to a dirty bomb. Abraham said the United States had provided similar equipment and training to safeguard the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics. The joint program began last year and also aims to protect Greece’s sole nuclear reactor and other sites where radioactive materials are stored. Such sites could also be terrorist targets. «We are improving protection systems at the Democritos research reactor, 22 hospital clinics and at sensitive industrial facilities,» Kamarinopoulos said. The Democritos research reactor, which uses highly enriched uranium, is located in the Athens suburb of Aghia Paraskevi – a few kilometers from the city center. «The project has adopted a multi-area coverage plan to leave no gaps in nuclear security. The physical protection of nuclear and other radioactive materials in Greece is being enhanced and the latest technology is being applied at the borders to detect attempts to smuggle such material into Greece,» Nilsson said. Greece has held a number of exercises to deal with mass casualties from a nuclear, biological or chemical attack. NATO has also promised to fly in medicine and rescue equipment should such an attack occur. «An important part of our security plan has now significantly been reinforced,» Public Order Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis said. His ministry has been hosting a three-day meeting for 350 security experts representing national Olympic committees, sponsors and broadcasters. On the second day, the experts discussed security at Athens airport, the Olympic Village and hotels, as well as transport and security for athletes and officials.