• DTRA awards British university $1.1 million for improved radiation detectors

    The University of Surrey has been awarded $1.1 million by the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) to research new types of nanomaterials that produce high efficiency radiation detectors for use in nuclear security. The project will develop materials that are used as highly sensitive radiation detectors.

  • Britain deploys specialist troops in city where ex-Russian spy collapsed

    Britain has deployed specialist troops to remove potentially contaminated objects from the site where former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter were found unconscious after a suspected nerve-agent attack. Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, have been in hospital since they were found on a bench outside a shopping center in the southern English city of Salisbury on 4 March.

  • Toxicologist: Lab with “military capability” likely made poison used on Russian ex-spy

    British investigators have announced that a “nerve agent” was used in an attempt to murder Russian former spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury on 4 March. But they have not specified what nerve agent was used in the attack. Alastair Hay, a professor of environmental toxicology and a member of the British government’s advisory group on chemical warfare agents, said about the likely source of the toxic substance: “I think it’s more a case in which we are talking about a military capability. If you are a diligent chemist, you will find procedures for making sarin and tabun and various other chemical agents. But there’s the complexity in making it and how efficient the reaction is. And, of course, there is the risk of exposure in making something, too. So containment to make sure that the laboratory person is not exposed is absolutely crucial. So I think, really, what one is looking at here is probably more a military-type manufacture. But again, we just have to wait and see.”

  • Nerve agents: what are they and how do they work?

    The first nerve agents were invented by accident in the 1930s when researchers were trying to make cheaper and better alternatives to nicotine as insecticides. In their search, German scientists made two organic compounds containing phosphorus that were very effective at killing insect pests. However, they soon discovered that, even in minuscule amounts, the substances caused distressing symptoms in humans exposed to them. The two substances – too toxic to be used as commercial insecticides in agriculture – became known as tabun and sarin. Since then, other nerve agents have been developed, but much less is known about them, although they are thought to work in broadly the same way. Unlike street drugs, nerve agents cannot be made in your kitchen or garden shed, on account of their toxicity, even in tiny amounts. Synthesis of nerve agents requires a specialist laboratory, with fume cupboards. As more details emerge from the case of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, we’ll know more about the precise substance used and how it should be tackled. Either way, nerve agents are horrendously lethal and chemical warfare is an obscene use of chemicals.

  • Suspected nerve-agent attack in U.K. an “appalling, reckless crime”

    The substance used on 4 March to injure an ex-Russian spy ad his daughter was a nerve agent – but the British police say it was rarer than sarin or VX nerve agents, thus making the involvement of Russian state labs in the production of the substance certain. A spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May said the attack on Skripal and his daughter was an “appalling and reckless crime.” Skripal’s son Sergei, 44, died on a visit to Russia last year under mysterious circumstances.

  • U.K. counterterrorism unit takes over probe into Russian ex-spy's illness

    Britain’s counterterrorism police took over the investigation into the sudden and severe illness of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter as media reported that Skripal’s son died last year of unknown causes on a visit to Russia. Scotland Yard announced that its counterterrorism unit would take charge due to the case’s “unusual circumstances” after Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson warned that any involvement of a foreign government in the incident would not go “unpunished.”

  • Name your poison: Exotic toxins fell Kremlin foes

    The sudden illness in Britain of a Russian former spy has drawn comparisons with another poisoning in the United Kingdom – the 2006 assassination by Vladimir Putin’s agents of Russian former-spy-turned-Kremlin-critic Aleksandr Litvinenko. In using various poisons – some of them esoteric — to have his critics and adversaries killed inside Russia and abroad, Putin is continuing a storied KGB tradition. Here is a closer, if brief, look at some of the poisons Russian government agents have used on their lethal missions.

  • Low-cost arsenic sensor could save lives

    Worldwide, 140 million people drink water containing unsafe levels of arsenic, according to the World Health Organization. Short-term exposure causes skin lesions, skin cancer and damage to the cognitive development of children, while long-term exposure leads to fatal internal cancers. A new low-cost, easy-to-use sensor which can test drinking water for arsenic in just one minute.

  • New framework for guiding controversial research still has worrisome gaps

    In December the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) release lifted the funding moratorium on Gain of Function (GoF) research, following the controversial projects involving H5N1 in 2011. The “Framework for guiding funding decisions about proposed research involving enhanced potential pandemic pathogens” is similar to the January 2017 “P3C0 Framework,” and it came with the bonus of restoring funding for such research – but there are still considerable concerns with how GoF research is evaluated and if these frameworks have really addressed the gaps.

  • New Congressional Biodefense Caucus launched

    A new Congressional Biodefense Caucus was launched last Monday. The caucus said it already has a bipartisan membership roll which includes twenty-seven Members of Congress. The caucus is “dedicated to strengthening our nation’s biodefense enterprise and national security.”

  • New evidence of nuclear fuel releases discovered at Fukushima

    Uranium and other radioactive materials, such as cesium and technetium, have been found in tiny particles released from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors. This could mean the environmental impact from the fallout may last much longer than previously expected according to a new study by a team of international researchers. The team says that, for the first time, the fallout of Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor fuel debris into the surrounding environment has been “explicitly revealed” by the study.

  • Protecting soldiers from blast-induced brain injury

    Researchers have developed a new military vehicle shock absorbing device that may protect warfighters against traumatic brain injury (TBI) due to exposure to blasts caused by land mines. During Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, more than 250,000 warfighters were victims of such injuries. Prior to this study, most research on blast-induced TBI has focused on the effects of rapid changes in barometric pressure, also known as overpressure, on unmounted warfighters.

  • Analytical methods to help develop antidotes for cyanide, mustard gas

    Several Food and Drug Administration-approved antidotes are available for cyanide poisoning, but they have severe limitations. To develop effective antidotes for chemical agents, such as cyanide and mustard gas, scientists need analytical methods that track not only the level of exposure but also how the drug counteracts the effects of the chemical.

  • TSA sets new firearm discovery record

    TSA discovered a record breaking 104 firearms in carry-on bags around the United States from 5 through 11 February. The previous record of ninety-six firearms was set in July of 2017. Of the 104 firearms discovered, 87 were loaded and 38 had a round chambered. Firearm possession laws vary by state and locality. TSA says that the agency may impose civil penalties of up to $13,066 per violation per person for prohibited items violations and violations of other TSA regulations. Repeat violations will result in higher penalties.

  • Before the U.S. approves new uranium mining, consider its toxic legacy

    Uranium – the raw material for nuclear power and nuclear weapons – is having a moment in the spotlight. Companies such as Energy Fuels, Inc. have played well-publicized roles in lobbying the Trump administration to reduce federal protection for public lands with uranium deposits. The Defense Department’s Nuclear Posture Review calls for new weapons production to expand the U.S. nuclear arsenal, which could spur new domestic uranium mining. And the Interior Department is advocating more domestic uranium production, along with other materials identified as “critical minerals.” I have studied the legacies of past uranium mining and milling in Western states for over a decade. My book examines dilemmas faced by uranium communities caught between harmful legacies of previous mining booms and the potential promise of new economic development. These people and places are invisible to most Americans, but they helped make the United States an economic and military superpower. In my view, we owe it to them to learn from past mistakes and make more informed and sustainable decisions about possibly renewing uranium production than our nation made in the past.