Cooperative Threat Reduction set to expand

The Cooperative Threat Reduction program, a United State initiative started two decades ago to help secure and destroy nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, is expanding to confront worldwide bioterrorism threats.

These threats include naturally occurring deadly diseases in Africa like the ebola, Rift Valley Fever and Marburg viruses. The viruses are currently studied in East Africa in research facilities that often lack basic security systems, Chemical & Engineering News reports.

“Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups are active in Africa, and it is imperative that deadly pathogens stored in labs that are secure,” Sen. Richard Lugar said, according to Chemical & Engineering News. “This is a threat we cannot ignore.”

Lugar cosponsored the legislation that created the CTR program in 1991 along with former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.). The initiative led to all nuclear weapons in Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine being shipped to Russia for dismantlement.

A 2009 report issued by the National Academy of Sciences recommended that the CTR be reformulated to combat international terrorism and other current threats.

“The program needs a broad upgrade to meet the magnitude of new security challenges, particularly at the nexus of WMD and terrorism,” David R. Franz, vice president and chief biological scientist at Midwest Research Institute in Frederick, Md., and cochairman of the NAS committee that wrote the report, said, according to Chemical & Engineering News.

Lugar led a delegation last November to Kenya and Uganda to inspect security at health facilities storing lethal biological agents. Security often consisted of only barbed wire. Some of the facilities had ordinary padlocks and broken windows.

“Building cooperative programs with African countries is in our mutual security interests and will also have the humanitarian effect of identifying and controlling new diseases that could quickly spread around the world,” Lugar said, according to Chemical & Engineering News.

Under the proposed budget for fiscal year 2012, additional funds have been allocated for the expansion of CTR related activities in Africa.

Kenneth A. Myers, director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, hopes to ensure that the U.S. will not suffer a major chemical, biological or nuclear attack.

“Those who wish to harm us understand that the use of such weapons could result in immense loss of life and enduring economic, political, and social damage on a global scale,” Myers said, according to Chemical & Engineering News. “They are determined to acquire WMD and, if successful, will use them. I go to work every day with 2,000 people whose job is to prevent that from happening.”