Nuclear Emergency Search Team (NEST)
November 6, 2001 1:03 PM   Subscribe

Nuclear Emergency Search Team (NEST) We know about the US "elite" special ops - Delta Forces, Navy Seals, CDC (I would argue) - but had you heard of NEST, located inside a small, unobtrusive box under "Dept of Energy, Emergency Response" in the New York Times Office of Homeland Security Org Chart (reg required), "....The primary task of NEST is constantly to be on the lookout for potential nuclear or radiological weapons that might be smuggled onto the U.S. ....After the Sept. 11 attacks on New York City and the Pentagon, NEST was put on a state of high alert and operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week in the nation's capital and New York City monitoring for nuclear-related weapons... includes extensive use of deployed sensors and specially equipped vehicles patrolling the streets of both cities..." I can't decide if I feel safer or more paranoid thinking the windowless minivan parked for the last hour outside my window is sniffing for a nuke.
posted by Voyageman (12 comments total)
NEST is referenced in the now-nearly-forgotten Cold War movie Special Bulletin, directed by Ed Zwick. Made for TV circa 1983, daringly filmed in a War of the Worlds style that I doubt would be allowed today. Highly recommended, so I won't give away the ending...

Yep, there are many possible scenarios in our common future -- and the nuclear ones are definitely not very pleasant. Still too early to gauge the risk of local-nuclear attacks, but it seems likely to be nonzero. Sigh.
posted by skyboy at 2:08 PM on November 6, 2001

I hope they are not getting false positives every time they pass a clinic with an active X-Ray....

What, exactly, does one detect for to find a green football?
posted by dwivian at 2:13 PM on November 6, 2001

NEST is also shown (briefly, then overrruled in favor of star-power heroics) in Broken Arrow.

There's also the novel The Fifth Horseman, which posits a nuclear bomb secreted somewhere in New York City by a Middle East strongman bent on ... well, it's Muammar Ghadafi, assisted by Carols "the Jackal" and he wants Israel destroyed. It's very carefully researched (written by the journalist authors of "Paris is Burning"), and chilling. And while it was clearly written from a European nuke-disarmament standpoint (perhaps they thought they could persuade Americans by basing the story there, though it was no stretch to do so), it's more relevant today by far.
posted by dhartung at 2:26 PM on November 6, 2001

dwivian: I'm fairly positive that it requires a large amount of fissionable material to produce either a nuclear bomb or a "dirty" conventional bomb...on the order of many pounds at least...far exceeding the amount of radioactive material used in most X-ray machines. Also, therapeutic X-ray machines are heavily shielded and their beams are tightly focused; therefore unlikely to set off external sensors in passing trucks.

I think that a far more disturbing question would be: what would prevent these theoretical (at this point, anyway) terrorists from moving a bomb around in a heavily shielded container? How would the feds detect it? As we've seen clearly in the last 6 weeks, terrorists are hardly idiots who wouldn't plan for such a contingency.
posted by MrBaliHai at 2:42 PM on November 6, 2001

Bush: Nuclear threat must be taken seriously I think this may be the first time its directly mentioned in one of his very public speeches? Is he easing it into the the media domain, so we can start adapting to the threat, much like the Cold War? Will CNN replace "Anhrax Scare" with "Nuclear Scare" in their TV headline coverage?
posted by Voyageman at 2:44 PM on November 6, 2001

It's very carefully researched (written by the journalist authors of "Paris is Burning"), and chilling.

Whoa, that is scary! Drag Queens take over Manhattan!

PS: Just kidding.
posted by rodii at 2:59 PM on November 6, 2001

I wonder if everyone realizes how scary this really is; how scary nuclear weapons are; there's a generation or two out there who never really had to confront the issue.

Since 9/11, even flash photography scares the hell out of me. So many containers on so many ships and freight trains...
posted by ParisParamus at 3:10 PM on November 6, 2001

I think us kids have a pretty good handle on how scary nuclear weapons are. What we don't have, unlike the boomers, is any experience dealing with that fear. I'm not saying I/we envy you, but we may take longer to adjust to living under that shadow.
posted by lbergstr at 3:20 PM on November 6, 2001

Actually, if anyone can comment, I'm curious: how does dealing with the modern fear compare with the Cold War back in its heyday?

What I'd like to hear is something like "20th century America has dealt with fear before and stared it down. You have role models for this."

Unfortunately, what I expect to hear is "no, this is a lot more immediate and unpredictable, so it's not comparable. Give me one totalitarian goverment to face any time."
posted by lbergstr at 3:38 PM on November 6, 2001

This is a lot more immediate and unpredictable, so it's not comparable. Give me one totalitarian goverment to face any time.
posted by stbalbach at 7:18 PM on November 6, 2001

RE: What I'd like to hear is something like "20th century America has dealt with fear before and stared it down.....Well, there was an excellent article recently in the New York Times (reg reqired) written by Stanford historian David M. Kennedy called "Its Been Dark Before". He dwells on the fears after Pearl Harbor and at the outset of WWII. He ends with a powerful line: "...But it is not outlandish to suggest that the nation's response to Pearl Harbor demonstrated the enduring truth that while Americans can surely be flummoxed and discouraged, they remain in the end a people prodigiously resourceful, resilient and creative."
posted by Voyageman at 8:07 PM on November 6, 2001

ParisParamus, here's something else to worry about--if a nuke was on a container ship it wouldn't even have to be unloaded to cause disaster. All it would need to do is detonate somewhere close to the coastline.
posted by ArkIlloid at 10:21 PM on November 6, 2001

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