DOT, NRC change nuclear materials labeling rules, making finding dirty bombs more difficult

Published 26 January 2006

The nuclear industry wanted labeling rules on nuclear materials eased so that such materials could be more easily transported to disposal sites; too bad this relaxation makes it more difficult to identify dirty bombs

According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), there are about two million sealed radiological devices in the United States. The number of sources of radioactive material which would make effective terrorist tools is much smaller, though. The U.S. government has set up a system calling on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to regulate the use and disposal of radioactive sources, and on the department of Energy (DOE) to handle disposal of the more dangerous radioactive materials once they are no longer needed. The GAO criticized DOE’s disposal efforts in its 2003 audit, but in 2005 said that DOE has largely dealt with the problems highlighted in the earlier report.

The more recent concern is that the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the NRC have changed nuclear material labeling rules in a way which would make it more difficult to find a dirty bomb at U.S. borders. In 2004 the two agencies adopted rules which increased the amount of radioactive material that could be transported in the United States without being labeled. The rule was adopted in order to make it easier to transport nuclear materials to disposal facilities, but experts say that allowing more unlabeled radioactive material to move freely around the country will make search and finding dirty bombs that much harder.

-read more in Benton Ives-Halperin, CQ report (sub. req.)