To highlight this issue, in the first week of April, Pool Re and the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) held a conference on the risk of radiological terrorism and possible mitigation measures. The radiological capability of Daesh and other groups is increasing and so is the risk that one of these groups could deploy a so-called “dirty bomb” or radiological dispersal device (RDD) to irradiate high-value targets. As Lord Browne, former Defence Secretary and vice-chairman of NTI, noted, Belgian investigators found terrorist cells monitoring an employee of a nuclear reactor that produces isotopes for much of Europe.
An RDD’s effects are more long-term than a standard explosive device and result more from the dispersed radiation than the immediate explosive damage. At the conference, experts from NTI and Cranfield University discussed the potential destruction an RDD could cause, with a variety of scenarios and models, many depending on the expertise of the terrorist cell. Even the most optimistic, however, show significant business interruption and economic damage resulting from the long clean-up.
Although a number of radioactive isotopes could be used to produce an RDD, caesium-137, commonly found in UK hospital blood irradiation machines, is the most significant threat. A white powder, with a long half-life and highly reactive, Caesium can bind with concrete and other surfaces, making it near-impossible to clear. It is gradually being phased out in France, Japan and Norway. And, as NTI experts pointed out, the replacement blood irradiators are more effective and cheaper in the long run for hospitals to operate.
Ed Butler, head of risk analysis at Pool Re, ended his speech by stating his belief that we would see weapons of mass destruction – or, in this case, disruption – used in our lifetime. But with conferences such as this, comes awareness of the threat – and perhaps, with awareness, action to mitigate the danger. Bringing together the experts in this field and insurance, an industry that has an inherent interest in mitigating risk, is a positive step for all parties, and we at Pool Re are privileged to host this important event. Pool Re and NTI, the private market and government, all have a role to play in the task ahead. And this conference may just be the first step.