U.S. Auditors to Nuclear Agency: Collaborate More on Securing Radiological Sites

A Transportation and Security Administration officer carries radiological-nuclear detection equipment in his backpack at Penn Station in New York City in January. Efforts by the National Nuclear Security Administration to foster better international standards for safeguarding radiological sources would benefit from more outside expertise, a new report finds.
National Journal
Rachel Oswald
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Rachel Oswald
March 7, 2014, 7:20 a.m.

Con­gres­sion­al aud­it­ors are telling the En­ergy De­part­ment it should col­lab­or­ate more with oth­er key agen­cies on de­vel­op­ing ways to se­cure ra­di­olo­gic­al items.

The de­part­ment’s semi­autonom­ous Na­tion­al Nuc­le­ar Se­cur­ity Ad­min­is­tra­tion in 2012 launched a pro­ject aimed at en­cour­aging the highest stand­ards around the world in the pro­tec­tion of ci­vil­ian-sec­tor ra­di­olo­gic­al sources that might be stolen and used by ter­ror­ists to build a so-called “dirty bomb.”

The nuc­le­ar agency set up two pi­lot sites for the “ra­di­olo­gic­al se­cur­ity zone” pro­ject — one in Peru and an­oth­er in Mex­ico — but neg­lected “to com­plete some im­port­ant plan­ning and eval­u­ation steps,” the Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­ab­il­ity Of­fice con­cluded in a Thursday re­port.

NNSA of­fi­cials failed to seek in­put from “key stake­hold­ers” with rel­ev­ant ex­pert­ise, such as the In­ter­na­tion­al Atom­ic En­ergy Agency, State De­part­ment and Nuc­le­ar Reg­u­lat­ory Com­mis­sion, GAO of­fi­cials found.

“By not fol­low­ing the pro­fes­sion­al prac­tice of early en­gage­ment of key stake­hold­ers, NNSA may have missed op­por­tun­it­ies to ob­tain and lever­age the ex­pert­ise, per­spect­ives, and re­sources of these agen­cies,” the re­port states.

For in­stance, the agency missed out on learn­ing from the U.N. nuc­le­ar watch­dog or­gan­iz­a­tion what les­sons it has learned from years spent at­tempt­ing to im­prove re­gion­al ra­di­olo­gic­al se­cur­ity prac­tices.

In the event the nuc­le­ar agency ex­pands its ra­di­olo­gic­al se­cur­ity zone ini­ti­at­ive, of­fi­cials should seek out oth­er agen­cies’ ex­pert­ise and de­vel­op a con­crete plan for eval­u­at­ing the ef­fic­acy of the vari­ous zones, the re­port said.

Con­gress re­ques­ted the GAO study in the fisc­al 2013 De­fense Au­thor­iz­a­tion Act.

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