Washington, June 20 : To counter a likely threat from terrorists to set off a radiological bomb during the Beijing Olympics, the Bush Administration has sent a secret team of nuclear specialists to China on its growing concern.
The Nuclear Emergency Support Team (NEST) was sent on Chinese intelligence indicating that any attack likely would involve a radiological device -- a conventional explosive laced with radioactive material to enhance its effect, The Washington Times US officials familiar with the security efforts, as saying.
The NEST deployment was disclosed as China announced this week that it is conducting a citywide drill in Beijing to test responses for a radiological bomb attack. It could not be learned whether the NEST unit will participate in the drill.
The deployment to China is unusual. The NEST units are usually deployed to areas in the US and use highly classified equipment and techniques.
The team is part of the Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration and was ordered to Beijing as part of US-China security cooperation, the Bush Administration officials said.
Asked about the dispatch of the nuclear detection team, an Energy Department spokesman declined to comment, noting that NEST deployments are not announced.
Other officials familiar with the NEST said the team is made up of nuclear weapons scientists and technicians, many from Energy Department nuclear laboratories, who will provide specialised technical expertise in Beijing before the August 8-24 games.
Team members will be outfitted with special nuclear detection gear and will operate in secret, the officials said. A fact sheet from the Energy Department states that the NEST deals "with the technical aspects of nuclear or radiological terrorism."
The groups conduct search operations. If radiation is detected, they will perform an identification of nuclear materials, diagnostics and assessments of nuclear devices and bomb dismantling.
Under the Atomic Energy Act, the US State Department is the lead federal agency for deploying the team, which will work with FBI agents in Beijing.
Earlier, the International Atomic Energy Agency had stated in a staff report on May 23 that the agency and China are working behind the scenes to "bolster the country's security and minimize threats."