The Bush administration has dispatched a secret team of nuclear specialists to China in response to Chinese concerns that terrorists may attempt to set off a radiological bomb during the Beijing Summer Olympics, The Washington Times has learned.
The Nuclear Emergency Support Team (NEST) was sent on Chinese intelligence indicating that any attack likely would involve a radiological device - a conventional explosive laced with radioactive material to enhance its effect - said Bush administration officials familiar with the security efforts.
The NEST deployment was disclosed as China announced this week that it is conducting a citywide drill in Beijing to test responses for a radiological bomb attack. It could not be learned whether the NEST unit will participate in the drill.
The deployment to China is unusual. NEST units usually deploy to areas in the United States and use highly classified equipment and techniques.
The team is part of the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration and was ordered to Beijing as part of U.S.-China security cooperation, the Bush administration officials said.
Asked about the dispatch of the nuclear detection team, an Energy Department spokesman declined to comment, noting that NEST deployments are not announced.
Other officials familiar with the NEST said the team is made up of nuclear weapons scientists and technicians, many from Energy Department nuclear laboratories, who will provide specialized technical expertise in Beijing before the Aug. 8-24 games.
Team members will be outfitted with special nuclear detection gear and will operate in secret, the officials said.
A fact sheet from the Energy Department states that the NEST deals “with the technical aspects of nuclear or radiological terrorism.”
The groups conduct search operations. If radiation is detected, they will perform an identification of nuclear materials, diagnostics and assessments of nuclear devices and bomb dismantling.
“Response teams vary in size from a five-person technical advisory team to a tailored deployment of dozens searchers and scientists who can locate and then conduct or support technical operations on a suspected nuclear device,” the fact sheet states.
The exact size of the NEST being sent to Beijing could not be learned, but the officials said it will include about 10 people.
The teams use compact nuclear detection gear hidden in briefcases, knapsacks or portable coolers. They travel in vans searching for radiation sources, often at night to avoid public scrutiny.
Under the Atomic Energy Act, the State Department is the lead federal agency for deploying the team, which will work with FBI agents in Beijing.