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March 2002

The Laboratory
in the News

Commentary by
Wayne Shotts

Tracking Down
Virulence in Plague

L-Gel Decontaminates Better Than Bleach

Faster Inspections of Laser Coatings

From Kilobytes to Petabytes in 50 Years



Wayne Shotts
Associate Director,
Arms Control, and International Security

Counterterrorism Is One Part of the Threat Reduction Picture

SINCE the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the news has been filled with stories about the events and their aftermath. Many of the stories have focused on what the U.S. government is doing to combat terrorism and ensure homeland security. And much of what the government is doing is made possible by Lawrence Livermore and its sister national security laboratories.
National security rests on two important actions: reducing threats by stemming and countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and deterring aggression against the U.S. through diplomacy, treaties, and military strength.
Threat reduction is an extremely complex challenge. It entails preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, most critically by keeping weapons-usable nuclear materials out of the hands of potential proliferants and terrorists. It also involves myriad efforts to detect proliferation-related activities and to counter them through diplomatic or military channels. Furthermore, threat reduction requires capabilities to defend against the new breed of terrorist, bent on causing widespread destruction and mass casualties without regard to personal preservation. The proliferation and terrorism threats are highly interconnected and must be addressed through an integrated program that tackles the threats in all of their various guises, stages, and aspects.
At Livermore, our threat reduction activities are conducted under the aegis of the Nonproliferation, Arms Control, and International Security (NAI) Directorate. Each of the four divisions in NAI focuses on a different stage of the threat reduction problem. The Proliferation Prevention and Arms Control (PPAC) Program addresses the front end of threat reduction, with particular emphasis on providing assistance to the former Soviet Union to improve the security of its vast stocks of weapons-usable nuclear materials. The Proliferation Detection and Defense Systems Program (Q Division) develops technologies to remotely detect proliferation activities and tools to assess options to reverse those activities. The Counterterrorism and Incident Response Program (R Division) devises new instruments and procedures for responding to and minimizing the effects of nuclear, chemical, or biological terrorism. NAI’s International Assessments Program (Z Division) conducts all-source assessments related to the weapons capabilities, intentions, and motivations of other countries and subnational groups.
Two articles in this issue highlight projects focused on the response phase of threat reduction. The article entitled Tracking Down Virulence in Plague describes research to elucidate the genome of the various strains of Yersinia pestis, the pathogen that causes plague, and uncover the mechanism of its virulence. Building on the Laboratory’s expertise in DNA sequencing, the researchers are searching for the DNA signatures that are unique to Y. pestis (but not any close relatives, such as Y. pseudotuberculosis), yet are found in every one of its thousand-some strains. This work is conducted for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Chemical and Biological National Security Program and its thrust in biofoundations.
The article entitled L-Gel Decontaminates Better Than Bleach summarizes work to develop an easy-to-use reagent for detoxifying or degrading chemical and biological warfare agents. The Livermore reagent, called L-Gel, has demonstrated its effectiveness in laboratory and field tests, and testing by analytical laboratories certified by the California Environmental Protection Agency has shown that the residual materials resulting from L-Gel decontamination are nonhazardous. L-Gel technology is being transferred to private industry, and commercial product should be available within the year.
The fact that Livermore has been able to provide advanced technology and expert assistance to the recently declared war on terrorism is testament to the importance of our threat reduction activities. Researchers in NAI have had the foresight to prepare for the “catastrophic maybe” of terrorism practiced with weapons of mass destruction. The war against terrorism will be fought for many years; indeed, it will likely never completely end. Thus, homeland security and counterterrorism are enduring national security missions, and Livermore’s threat reduction activities will be even more critical in the years to come.




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UCRL-52000-02-4 | April 15, 2002