Nuclear Emergency Search Team discussion (archive)
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Date: Sat, 23 Jan 1999 20:56:20 -0500 (EST)
From: The Man in Black

This is merely a short gathering of notes and info that will eventually turn into the greatest document ever written on NEST, which is a pain in the ass to research. Hopefully this will turn the list into the non-smoking, drug-free utopia we once knew. Ah! Lost Eden… what serpent's fang; as sweet as thine fruit?

NUCLEAR EQUIPMENT

NEST detects radiation with L-RAD (Long Range Alpha Detectors) which is a technology with classified range and capabilities, making it really annoying to roleplay. I'll probably use GURPS Vehicles or Ultra-Tech's RADscanner stats, that'll do for our purposes.

DOE Helicopters and other aircraft are almost certainly equipped with these devices in hardpoint mounted pods. Military craft as well.

I have yet to research the capabilities of Radiation protective HAZMAT suits. Or any commercial Nuclear Emergency procedures.

ICEFIRE mentions a specially built two-person Harrier Jumpjet that contains pods and cockpit instrumentation in the second seat. These harriers can be mistaken for trainer aircraft except for the suspicious bulging pods under the tarp covered wings.

The US Army, and other armored forces, have NBC capable tanks and armored vehicles. It would be foolish for NEST not to use them. There is a Trinity era photograph of Enrico Fermi inside a lead lined tank collecting samples from his latest detonation. Info on modern variations of this theme have not been forthcoming.

Rapidly hardening Foam sprayed from modified firefighting vehicles (HAZMAT trucks) are sometimes used to contain small explosive devices from dispersing radioactive materials. Disposal of this foam can often be a sticky problem, HAR HAR. Don't laugh, the EPA isn't cleared for these sorts of things. There may not be a NEST-SOP for radioactive foam disposal, or maybe there is, who knows?

SORD is consulted for Meteorlogical information about conditions which can affect particulate (fallout) dispersal and guide evacuation. FEMA is the federal agency that would handle/authorize a civil defense evac.

Communications and Control is a nightmare. In various exercises, notably MIRAGE GOLD in Nawlins', FBI did not inform local law enforcement of the possible threat. Local Hospitals and Fire Departments (HAZMAT) were out of the loop for much of the "wargame." No one even mentioned the Local Department of Health or FEMA. If the MIRAGE GOLD exercise had been real, New Orleans would have become a smoking ruin without being evacuated. NOTE TO SELF - email Jay at Hawaii DOH, he works radiation, and has mentioned NEST.

One example (from somewhere and not MIRAGE GOLD) mentioned how NYPD cops in the subway escorting Feds lost communication over their police band radios. MetroCops or Transit Police, had a radio communication system that worked underground, but were not informed of the exercise/nuclear emergency until it was too late.

NUCLEAR EMERGENCIES

Not everyone is a mad scientist plotting from the Secret Underwater Base, or the Secret Underground Base, or the Secret Volcano Base to blow up Washington DC with a 100mt warhead. Sometimes accidents happen, and when they do, NEST goes out and kicks ass.

Reactor leaks into groundwater, unauthorized particulate dispersal and simply poor accounting for nuclear materials (especially old medical tech, like pacemakers and X-ray machines) have probably all been NEST experiences.

Not all bombs and terrorist nuclear devices are capable of mushroom clouds. Some are Radiation Dispersal Devices, which use uranium or plutonium dust to give 100% cancer rates to millions. Some are hoaxes.

Sometimes radiation is detected where it ought not to be. In these cases, DOE usually conducts surveillance until the source of the radiation can be determined. ICEFIRE mentions a fictional op called SHADOW FORGE:

A smuggler's car full of drugs set off radiation safety sensors in a warehouse full of old pacemakers. The car was searched by customs, and narcotics were discovered (prolly by K-9's). The owner of the car was found to have died from excessive radiation exposure several days previously, but no nuclear materials were found. DOE told customs to leave the car be, and eventually it was picked up by some random terrorists (forget who) who had in their possession a non-functioning russian warhead with salvagable plutonium they had used to build a RDD.

The inference was that they had bought the warhead with drugs, and after the middleman died, they took the drugs back, only to be busted by the authorities. The hiding place was probably chosen to mask the radiation, without realizing that the safety sensors would discover the device within a short period of time. I don't recall whether the leaking warhead was stored in the warehouse and if so, why the sensors took so long to go off. Perhaps they measure an accumulated dosage of rads over time?

Alpha Charges, Backpack nukes meant to be delivered by SEALS to blow up enemy subs are mentioned in the Rogue Warrior series by Richard Marcinko. he mentions the spurious twelve hour timer. Marcinko thinks it's prolly set to instant zero-detonation. The Russians are known to have manufactured a similar device.

NERVA rockets, which use nuclear fuels to produce nuclear exhaust for propulsion, have been developed by both the USA and the former USSR. The security surrounding the Russian program (I think it was located at Tyuratam/Baikonur) has all but disintigrated. NERVA fuels are highly enriched.

NUCLEAR FORENSICS

ONE POINT SAFE would have us believe that scientists at OAK RIDGE National Laboratory in Tennessee, Los Alamos NL in New Mexico, and Lawerence Livermore NL in California can determine the origin of uranium from the radiation signature and other manufacturing details. The accuracy can go as far as the specific Physics Institute in Russia which produced the materials. The exact means of production, and what would be required to support such production can be inferred from sample materials.

I need to get more info on the various types of nuclear production facilities and methods of manufacturing. This should scare the bejeezus out of my fellow subscribers :)

Theobacillus ferrooxidans is a bacteria that oxidizes metal sulfides. Essentially it eats bad dirt and rocks and leaves behind good ores and metals. It's very time consuming and inefficent to refine this way. But it allows poor-grade ores to produce high-grade uranium that would otherwise be unavailable.

PERSONNEL

ICEFIRE has NEST tasking guys from SOC, such as Navy SEALS and the such. I figure nuclear trained shooters are a good idea, but just as important are DOE scientists and analysts from the Intelligence Directorate. NEST's job is on a vast scale, and the support structure is immense, drawing on resources across the board. The consequences for a NEST failure are catastrophic. One person interviewed for ONE POINT SAFE mentioned that if a nuclear device went off in a major city, the USA would have an overnight police state that would continue indefinetely.

ARMAGEDDON

It is unclear what NEST's role in a full scale nuclear exchange would be, aside from dying of severe radiation exposure, cancer, looting, collapse of civilization etc. This could be extrapolated from civil defense planning, and semi-secret FEMA plans not involving PURITY CONTROL.

***

If anyone has anything concrete to add to TEXTBOOK CASES : NEST I would be grateful for the assistance. Mostly concerning the questions I have posed throughout the text.


Date: Sun, 24 Jan 1999 14:51:02 -0500

From: Graeme Price

Oh dear. I see the old ego-problem is back…. still, that's the MiB we all know and love!

Most commercial outfits will routinely rely on detection rather than physical protection, by which I mean using film badges and dosimeters to monitor exposure (whole body and hand dose usually). I can check out the dose exposure regulations if you want (they are probably in a filing cabinet somewhere around here). Bear in mind also the use of remote manipulators and robots (NEST people probably have something like the British Army bomb disposal remotes… which are a real piece of work: especially the shotgun on the end to "disrupt" bomb mechanisms, but I digress).

Probably involves a big hole in the ground. Most nuclear disposal seems to rely on this rather low tech approach. That and reinforced concrete sarcophagi.

I believe the British transport police have similar problems with the London Underground. Not sure whether they have worked out a way to use the tunnels as a waveguide though.

There was a nice article on the state (read plight) of Soviet nuclear research in Science a couple of weeks ago. You may be able to get free access to it at http://www.science.com, but I wouldn't count on it.

The lab upstairs from me at my old department was working on biological means of precipitating soluble uranium compounds into elemental uranium, and finding out ways to prevent corrosion in reactor pipes. AFAIK, the current methods for uranium enrichment still rely on centriugation rather than biological means (which are still in the research, let alone development, phase).

Nothing really concrete. Perhaps checking out the Soviet experience at Chernobyl may give clues? Alternatively there is the DOE website (http://www.doe.gov) which has a section on declassified materials (including security classifications and designations which expand on thjose in the DG book - check the site index for details). You may also want to check out Tom Clancy's The Sum of All Fears, which has some possibly accurate (but after some of the rubbish he wrote about bioweapons in Exceutive Orders, I'm not so sure) info on NEST procedures.

Date: Sun, 24 Jan 1999 15:40:51 -0500

From: Steven Kaye

The guy I'm going to have to be nice to since he picked up on my robot blimps link, damn him, wrote:

There are a few links on LRAD technology, suggesting a range of several meters. Check out http://lrad.nis6.lanl.gov/ and http://w3.pnl.gov:2080/WEBTECH/usid/lrad.html.bak

One of these two articles mentions detectors in helicopters, I forget which one:

http://www.seattletimes.com/extra/browse/html97/altbust_092997.htm

http://cgi.pathfinder.com/time/magazine/archive/1996/dom/960108/counterterrorism.html

Two links that might be useful in general are

http://www.lanl.gov/Internal/divisions/nis/welcome.html

(Los Alamos' Nonproliferation and International Security Division) and

http://drambuie.lanl.gov/~esh10/ (Los Alamos' Hazardous Materials Response Group)

I can help with the second one:

http://www.nrc/gov/NRC/AEOD/ER/FRERP/index.html

(Federal Radiological Emergency Response Plan). Other useful links are

http://www.fema.gov/fema/radiolo.html, http://www.fema.gov/pte/rea/,

http://www.fema.gov/emi/g250ws_f.htm, and last but not least

http://www.epa.gov/radiation/rert/index.html.

The one production method I can think of off the top of my head involves gas diffusion - U-238 being heavier than U-235, they diffuse at different rates and can be filtered.


Date: Sun, 24 Jan 1999 22:09:56 +0100
From: Davide Mana

The MIB observed

and Graeme commented

The principle is always, the lower the tech, the lesser the risk of some part malfunctioning.

Old mines are often regarded as a good dumping site for nuclear wastes (including containment foams). The abandoned mine is a perfect, ready made dumping ground, with many corridors and "vaults" and often a single, easy to block access.

Contrary to general belief, granite is not the best containment material. Not only there are relatively few mines boring through granite bodies, but granite can present fractures and joints, through which circulating water can come in contact with nuclear wastes and carry them into the water circuit.

The best and most sought after dumping sites available at the moment are old, abandoned halite mines.

Halite is the rock form of highly soluble sodium chlorine, the salt we generally use for cooking purposes - huge quantities of the stuff were deposited around the world in the Messinian (7.5 million years ago) and were later mined.

The presence of stable halite in an old underground complex is a guarantee the mine does not suffer from water seepages and leakages. Salt is therefore not a containment factor, but just a ready available control of the efficiency of the containment.

Already many of the old sites in the Mediterranean area have been optioned by wastes disposal companies - the run for the mines began in the mid '80s.

Noteworthy brainless instance: the head of the newly created ENPA (Ente Nazionale Protezione Ambiente - the Italian EPA equivalent) that, learning about the growing need for salt mines as nuclear dumping grounds, solved the problem by proposing we "make them" by filling with salt old coal mines. Steady on, that man!


Date: Wed, 27 Jan 1999 23:57:01 -0500 (EST)
From: John Petherick

At 08:56 PM 1/23/99 -0500, you wrote:

Looking at the sites mentioned by another list member, these devices do not directly measure radiation. Instead, they measure ion concentrations that are (presumably) due to the passage of ionizing radiation. I would expect that these devices are subject to interference from other ionization sources - "Ummm, sorry Ma'am. We can't locate the nuke because of a stationary thunderstorm directly over the MIB's house."

While these are the only devices that can detect alpha radiation beyond a couple of centimeters, they are "indirect" mesaures. My personal belief is that the NEST teams use very sensitive gamma radiation detectors, probably tuned to a specific wavelength and energy level. If I just had a textbook here, I could tell you the most probable isotope that would indicate the presence of fissile material (some decay isotope of U-235 or Pu-239).

<deleted>

The isotope ratios (proportion of U-235, U-238, and other elements) of weapons-grade fissile material is apparently specific to a production facility. Some popular literature (Tom Clancy's "Sum of All Fears") implies that the date of production can also be approximately determined.

This technology is not limited to nuclear materials. Using an Indictively Coupled Plasma - Mass Spectrometer (ICP-MS) allows an analyst to determine the geographical origin of almost any metal due to differences in elemental analysis and isotope ratio. This would be easier with ore samples, since recycling would result in the "blending" of metal from different ore bodies.

Using the same instrumentation, an analyst could determine if a metal object had been exposed to neutron radiation, i.e. being in a reactor or near a blast. The neutron flux would produce isotopes only observed in irradiated samples.

I'm assuming that you don't mean uranium mining and concentration. If you are, I'll ask some of my co-workers who used to work in the Elliot Lake mines.

This would be a very slow technology but, as you say, worthwhile for a country that can't buy uranium on the world market and only has access to low grade ores. This process is already being used for heap leaching of copper and other base metal ores.

Some of the development is to allow in-situ leaching. The ore wouldn't have to be removed from the ground, only the bacteria introduced to the ore body. There has to be some provision for removing the metal, usually as water soluble ions.

All-in-all, the best way for a country to get nuclear material is the way that India and Pakistan did. Buy several reactors from a country desperate to sell them (Canada), ostensibly for peaceful purposes, and then either use the waste for weapons and/or convert a reactor to a breeder.


Date: Mon, 25 Jan 1999 19:32:03 -0500 (EST)
From: The Man in Black

>Theobacillus ferrooxidans is a bacteria that oxidizes metal sulfides.
>Essentially it eats bad dirt and rocks and leaves behind good ores and
>metals. It's very time consuming and inefficent to refine this way. But it
>allows poor-grade ores to produce high-grade uranium that would otherwise
>be unavailable.

The lab upstairs from me at my old department was working on biological
means of precipitating soluble uranium compounds into elemental uranium,
and finding out ways to prevent corrosion in reactor pipes. AFAIK, the
current methods for uranium enrichment still rely on centriugation rather
than biological means (which are still in the research, let alone
development, phase).

Yes, I neglected to mention the experimental nature of this procedure. It was the Agharta (Sp?) Institute in India that was doing this according to my DEC98 issue of WIRED.

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