Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Monday, June 15, 2015

Students suggest ways to exchange equipment to reduce chance of theft, diversion of nuclear and radiological material

La Follette School students presented their research in Washington, D.C. From left: National Nuclear Security Administration Office of Radiological Security Director Maegon Barlow; students Alex Straka, Asma Easa, Andrea Traverse, and David Albino; Office of Radiological Security Regional Officer Kristina Hatcher; student Matthew Mayeshiba; and La Follette School alum Malika Taalbi of the National Nuclear Security Administration. La Follette School students presented their research in Washington, D.C. From left: National Nuclear Security Administration Office of Radiological Security Director Maegon Barlow; students Alex Straka, Asma Easa, Andrea Traverse, and David Albino; Office of Radiological Security Regional Officer Kristina Hatcher; student Matthew Mayeshiba; and La Follette School alum Malika Taalbi of the National Nuclear Security Administration.

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The report “Criteria for Teletherapy Unit Exchange” is available online.

The U.S. Office of Radiological Security has new ways to decide which countries are good candidates for swapping out machines used to treat cancer and thus reducing the possibility of theft of nuclear and radiological material that could be used to make weapons.

La Follette School students analyzed a proposal to facilitate the exchange of cobalt-60 teletherapy units in low- and-middle-income countries for more advanced linear accelerator radiotherapy machines from United States and other high-income countries. They produced their report as part of the spring Workshop in International Public Affairs taught by Melanie Manion.

“The purpose of exchanging the teletherapy units is to prevent theft or diversion of cobalt-60 for use in dirty bombs,” says Andrea Traverse, one of the authors. “Low-and-middle-income countries need outside resources to move toward adopting the more technologically complex and resource intensive linear accelerator units. Our analysis delineates requirements for a viable exchange.”

Traverse, David Albino, Debaki Ale, Asma Easa, Matthew Mayeshiba and Alex Straka identified stakeholders and criteria salient to the proposed initiative and its long-term success. Stakeholders include international governmental organizations, national governments, private sector corporations, actors within the medical community and non-governmental organizations, the report notes. Stakeholders are relevant at different stages, including budgeting and planning, installation and disposal.

The Office of Radiological Security is part of the National Nuclear Security Administration, which brought the students to Washington, D.C., in May to present their recommendations. They also presented at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at an event called Intersection of Public Health and Radiological Cancer Treatment in Resource-Constrained Environments.

“The NNSA presentation was a great opportunity,” Straka says. “Both audiences were very interested in our research and the proposed initiative.”