Expert Calls for U.S. Steps to Avert Dirty-Bomb-Material Road Theft

A Dec. 4 view of the area in Tepojaco, Hidalgo state, in Mexico where the Volkswagen Worker truck transporting a 'teletherapy source' containing cobalt-60 was stolen by gunmen two days earlier. Vehicles in the United States carrying similarly dangerous radiological sources are at risk of being hijacked if more regulations are not put in place, a security expert said on Thursday.
National Journal
Rachel Oswald
Add to Briefcase
Rachel Oswald
Jan. 24, 2014, 9:55 a.m.

A nuc­le­ar-se­cur­ity ex­pert is call­ing on the U.S. gov­ern­ment to bet­ter reg­u­late the private-sec­tor trans­port of ra­di­olo­gic­al sources that could be seized by ter­ror­ists.

“Giv­en the scale of dam­age that a ‘dirty-bomb’ could cause, it’s dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand why there are still no armed es­corts re­quired for cat­egory 1 trans­ports,” said Tom Biele­feld, a phys­i­cist and se­cur­ity-policy ex­pert at the Har­vard Uni­versity Belfer Cen­ter’s Pro­ject on Man­aging the Atom.

Cat­egory 1 sources are the most deadly of five ra­di­olo­gic­al cat­egor­ies ranked by the In­ter­na­tion­al Atom­ic En­ergy Agency. In­di­vidu­als who come in­to close con­tact to un­shiel­ded cat­egory 1 sources can die of ra­di­ation con­tam­in­a­tion with­in a few minutes to an hour, Biele­feld wrote in a Thursday ana­lys­is for the Bul­let­in of the Atom­ic Sci­ent­ists.

The 3,000 cur­ies of co­balt-60 con­tained in a briefly stolen truck last month in Mex­ico by armed thieves — who turned out to be more in­ter­ested in the truck than the cargo — was a cat­egory 1 source.

While not quite as dan­ger­ous as cat­egory 1 sources, cat­egory 2 ma­ter­i­als can cause ir­re­vers­ible in­jur­ies or even death if in­di­vidu­als are ex­posed to them for long enough.

Though the ra­dio­act­ive ma­ter­i­al in the Mex­ico case even­tu­ally was loc­ated and re­trieved, there is a chance that sim­il­ar or more dan­ger­ous in­cid­ents could take place in the United States, said Biele­feld.

He offered a num­ber of sug­ges­tions for lim­it­ing the risk of a ter­ror­ist group seiz­ing cat­egory 1 sources and oth­er lower-grade ra­dio­act­ive ma­ter­i­als while they are be­ing trans­por­ted by vehicle across the coun­try, in­clud­ing:

— A re­quire­ment by the U.S. Nuc­le­ar Reg­u­lat­ory Com­mis­sion that a “real-time loc­a­tion-track­ing sys­tem” be in­stalled in all vehicles trans­port­ing either cat­egory 1 or cat­egory 2 sources;

— A man­date in all 50 U.S. states that trucks trans­port­ing cat­egory 1 sources have an armed es­cort;

— As­sist­ance by states to ra­dio­act­ive trans­port li­censees in identi­fy­ing se­cure park­ing areas where drivers can safely rest;

— Bet­ter train­ing of truck drivers in how to re­spond, should their vehicles come un­der at­tack; and

— Out­fit­ting trucks with in­ex­pens­ive se­cur­ity devices, such as vehicle-dis­abling sys­tems and duress but­tons.

“On the road, there are few­er tech­nic­al pro­tec­tion meas­ures avail­able than in­side build­ings, so se­cur­ity de­pends even more on the people in charge: the drivers,” Biele­feld said. “They must be vi­gil­ant and pre­pared. This is primar­ily the re­spons­ib­il­ity of their bosses, who, in turn, must be able to rely on ad­equate rules and spe­cif­ic guid­ance from the reg­u­lat­or.”

What We're Following See More »
FCC Tightens Internet Privacy Standards
1 hours ago

Along party lines, the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday voted to tighten privacy standards for Internet service providers. "The regulations will require providers to receive explicit customer consent before using an individual’s web browsing or app usage history for marketing purposes. The broadband industry fought to keep that obligation out of the rules."

Obama Commutes Another 98 Sentences
2 hours ago

President Obama commuted the sentences of another 98 drug offenders on Thursday. Most of the convicts were charged with conspiracy to distribute drugs or possession with intent to distribute. Many of the sentences were commuted to expire next year, but some will run longer. Others are required to enroll in residential drug treatment as a condition of their release.

DOJ Busts More Than 50 for Call Center Scam
2 hours ago

The Department of Justice announced today it's charged "61 individuals and entities for their alleged involvement in a transnational criminal organization that has victimized tens of thousands of persons in the United States through fraudulent schemes that have resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in losses. In connection with the scheme, 20 individuals were arrested today in the United States and 32 individuals and five call centers in India were charged for their alleged involvement. An additional U.S.-based defendant is currently in the custody of immigration authorities."

Johnson on Ballot Everywhere, Followed by Stein, McMullin
4 hours ago
Is McMullin Building the GOP in Exile?
6 hours ago

Evan McMullin, the independent conservative candidate who may win his home state of Utah, is quietly planning to turn his candidacy into a broader movement for principled conservatism. He tells BuzzFeed he's "skeptical" that the Republican party can reform itself "within a generation" and that the party's internal "disease" can't be cured via "the existing infrastructure.” The ex-CIA employee and Capitol Hill staffer says, “I have seen and worked with a lot of very courageous people in my time [but] I have seen a remarkable display of cowardice over the last couple of months in our leaders.” McMullin's team has assembled organizations in the 11 states where he's on the ballot, and adviser Rick Wilson says "there’s actually a very vibrant market for our message in the urban northeast and in parts of the south."


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.