Nuclear Nonproliferation: DOE's International Radiological Threat Reduction Program Needs to Focus Future Efforts on Securing the Highest Priority Radiological Sources: GAO-07-282

Aloise, Gene
March 2007
GAO Reports;3/13/2007, p1
Government Document
Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, U.S. and international experts raised concerns that unsecured radiological sources were vulnerable to theft and posed a significant security threat to the United States and the international community. Radioactive material is encapsulated or sealed in metal to prevent its dispersal and is commonly called a sealed radiological source. Sealed radiological sources are used worldwide for many legitimate purposes, such as medical, industrial, and agricultural applications. However, the total number of these sources in use worldwide is unknown because many countries do not systematically account for them. It is estimated that thousands of these sources have been lost, stolen, or abandoned--commonly referred to as orphan sources. If certain types of these sources were obtained by terrorists, they could be used to produce a simple and crude, but potentially dangerous, weapon--known as a radiological dispersion device, or dirty bomb. In 2001, a congressional report directed DOE to use a portion of its fiscal year 2002 supplemental appropriation to address the threat posed by dirty bombs. In response to the congressional requirement, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) established the Radiological Threat Reduction Task Force to identify, recover, and secure vulnerable, high-risk radiological sources, budgeting $20.6 million for the program in fiscal year 2002. The program initially focused on securing sources in the countries of the former Soviet Union (FSU) because DOE officials determined this region had the greatest number of vulnerable sources. In 2003, at the direction of the Secretary of Energy, DOE expanded the scope of the program to secure sealed sources worldwide, ultimately establishing the International Radiological Threat Reduction (IRTR) Program. The program's primary objective is to protect U.S. national security interests by (1) implementing rapid physical security upgrades at vulnerable sites containing radioactive sources; (2) locating, recovering, and consolidating lost or abandoned high-risk radioactive sources; and (3) supporting the development of the infrastructure necessary to sustain security enhancements and supporting regulatory controls, including the development of regional partnerships to leverage international resources. In addition, DOE has established a program to recover sealed sources produced and distributed in the United States, known as the U.S. Radiological Threat Reduction program. Part of this program's mission is to recover U.S.-origin sources on a case-by-case basis that were supplied by DOE to other countries under the Atoms for Peace program. The IRTR program is administered by NNSA with support from multiple national laboratories. The national laboratories' responsibilities include (1) assessing the physical security requirements of countries participating in the program, (2) recommending specific upgrades to strengthen...


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