Senators Raise Concerns Over Security of Radiological Materials at Industrial Sites

WASHINGTON- Today, Senators Tom Carper (D-Del.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) released a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that outlines serious security risks regarding the access to radiological materials at industrial sites. The report was the focus of today’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing, “Securing Radiological Materials: Examining the Threat Next Door.”

The GAO report found that small, highly portable devices containing radiological materials that could be used to develop a dirty bomb lacked adequate security to prevent against theft. Radiological material found in hospitals, at construction sites or in universities can be easily put into a conventional bomb and when detonated would disperse radiation emitting material around and beyond the blast area. Due to their mobility and tendency to be frequently used in the field in unsecure public areas, GAO found that industrial radiological materials are highly vulnerable to theft or sabotage. GAO found four instances where this material was stolen and two instances where individuals attempted to impersonate inspectors in order to gain unauthorized access to the material.

Sen. Carper, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman : “The Government Accountability Office’s disturbing report leaves us with a clear message: despite government efforts, dangerous materials used at industrial sites are far too vulnerable to theft or sabotage by terrorists or others wishing to do us harm. We must do better. Fortunately, GAO provides some common-sense solutions to address serious security lapses and help keep Americans safe. Given the consequences of a dirty bomb, there really is no excuse for the vulnerabilities identified by GAO. As Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, I will make sure key federal agencies, including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the National Nuclear Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security, urgently implement GAO’s recommendations and work together to address this critical issue.”

Sen. Casey, Co-Chair of the Senate’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism (WMDT) Caucus: “I have been concerned about the potential catastrophic consequences of a ‘dirty bomb’ scenario.  I am troubled that individuals with significant criminal histories – an in one case, a conviction of terroristic threats – gained unescorted access to these dangerous materials.  Nuclear Regulatory Commission should act quickly to strengthen the vetting process to ensure malicious actors do not gain access to these radiological sources. These steps should have been taken a long time ago.”

For its audit, which is a follow up to the 2013 GAO report on medical radiological sources, GAO visited 33 of 1,400 U.S. industrial facilities that employ devices containing radiological material over a two year period.

GAO also found systematic problems with how Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) polices its unsupervised access process that has contributed to security vulnerabilities as well as major security lapses by the companies using these devices that undermined the already insufficient security measures.  For instance, GAO found two instances where licensees had granted unescorted access to individuals with extensive criminal histories. One of those individuals had even been previously convicted of making terroristic threat. Finally, GAO found that DHS, NRC and the National Nuclear Security Administration are not always effectively collaborating to develop technological solutions that would increase security and prevent theft of radiological sources. GAO makes recommendations for specific actions key agencies should take to prevent the theft of potential dirty bomb material. The agencies named concurred with the recommendations.