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NNSA, FBI Conclude Exercise in Virginia to Train Officials in WMD Terrorism Response

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) today announced the completion of a table-top counterterrorism exercise at the University of Virginia. The exercise, called Cavalier Thunder, was the latest in the NNSA’s Silent Thunder series, which gives federal, state and local officials and responders critical, hands-on experience in prioritized alarm assessment and response, crisis management, threat assessment, emergency response, consequence management and post-contingency procedures in the event of a terrorist incident involving radiological materials.

The Cavalier Thunder exercise involved a fictitious scenario involving radioactive materials. The University of Virginia’s expertise in both radiation technology and security were valuable contributions to the exercise, which also involved first responders from the city and state levels. Cavalier Thunder was also the first Silent Thunder exercise to be observed by a Canadian delegation. The table top exercises frequently accommodate international observers to facilitate the sharing of counterterrorism expertise and best practices with the global community.

“These exercises are critical to improving cooperation among federal, state and local officials, and we welcome the opportunity to work with organizations like the University of Virginia to ensure effective planning, communication and response coordination,” said Deputy Under Secretary for Counterterrorism and Counterproliferation Steven Aoki. “NNSA’s investments in nuclear security provide the unique technical knowledge and capabilities that help protect our country against terrorist attacks.”

Silent Thunder exercises take place in select locations across the United States with facilities that house nuclear or high-activity radioactive materials. The series is jointly organized and funded by NNSA’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative, NNSA’s Office of Counterterrorism Policy and Cooperation, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

These exercises involve fictitious scenarios such as those including terrorists infiltrating a research facility and attempting to seize control of a high-activity radiological source that in principle could be used in radiological dispersal devices (RDDs), commonly referred to as “dirty bombs.” The participating officials work cooperatively to assess and respond to fictional critical facility alarms and then manage the created crisis as if it were actually happening. The goal of these exercises is to provide first-hand crisis management experience and to improve both alarm response and emergency response methods.

NNSA's Global Threat Reduction Initiative works with domestic facilities that house nuclear or high-activity radioactive materials to provide voluntary security enhancements. In addition, specialized alarm response training is provided for facility security and local law enforcement through the Alarm Response Training Course at the Y-12 National Security Complex.

Started in 1999, the WMD Counterterrorism Exercise Program took on an expanded role following the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001. Since the program began, more than 7,500 international, federal, and local officials have participated in 95 different exercises. To promote full participation by state and local officials, Silent Thunder exercises are unclassified and utilize open source information for scenario development. To learn more about NNSA’s efforts to secure vulnerable nuclear and radiological material, click here.

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Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; works to reduce global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the U.S. and abroad.