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Nuclear drill set in Suffolk in December

NYPD Chief Esposito. (Nov. 14, 2011)

NYPD Chief Esposito. (Nov. 14, 2011) Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

Counterterrorism units of the NYPD and Long Island police departments will fan out across Suffolk County on Dec. 15 as part of a major exercise to find and intercept a mock improvised nuclear bomb destined for New York City, officials said Monday.

The Suffolk nuclear drill, similar to one carried out in April in the city that looked for a "dirty bomb," will focus the search for a device containing radioactive materials likely to be used in a terrorist bomb, said Insp. Stuart Cameron, head of the Suffolk County Police Department's special patrol bureau and an expert on nuclear terrorism.

Police and federal officials will be using a scenario based on intelligence that a device containing highly enriched uranium and plutonium has been smuggled into Suffolk, said Cameron.

"Improvised nuclear devices" using enriched uranium and plutonium are much more difficult to detect than dirty bombs, which use conventional explosives to spew more radioactively energetic -- and more easily detectable -- materials like cesium-137, said Cameron.

About 35 officers from Suffolk and Nassau counties and the NYPD, armed with personal radiation detectors and larger units will be doing a "very slow, methodical search" for the device in an area narrowed by the exercise's intelligence reports, said Cameron. The public may not notice anything unusual, he said.

"It should be a good exercise; we are going to learn a lot from it," said Cameron.

Law enforcement officials like NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly have maintained that an improvised nuclear bomb is a low-probability event for the city, but would have catastrophic consequences. Experts said a 10-kiloton device, comparable to the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, would destroy buildings within half a mile and severely damage others out to a mile away. Tens of thousands would die.

The city and Long Island could be impacted for hours by highly radioactive fallout. A graphic prepared by experts at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory showing a potential fallout plume was shown at a law enforcement nuclear planning seminar on Long Island last month.

"The potential is all of Long Island could be covered by radiation," said Cameron. Fortunately, such radiation decays rapidly and people can avoid it by staying indoors, he emphasized.

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