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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

‘Dirty bomb’ threat at hospitals remains, GAO report says

Anonymously contributed: ============================================================================================ ‘Dirty bomb’ threat at hospitals remains, GAO report says By Anne Gearan, Published: September 10 The Washington Post =========================================================================================== Nearly four out of five high-risk hospitals nationwide have failed to implement safeguards to secure radiological material that could be used in a “dirty bomb,” according to a draft report by congressional investigators. Eleven years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks focused attention on the possibility that terrorists could use crude nuclear devices, the analysis by the Government Accountability Office described numerous instances of failure to secure highly radioactive material at hospitals. “Medical facilities currently are not required to take any specific actions to make sure these materials are safe, and many have very sloppy practices, which is remarkable nearly 11 years after 9/11,” the report says, according to a copy of the draft scheduled for release Tuesday and provided to The Washington Post. The GAO evaluated efforts by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the National Nuclear Security Administration to regulate and secure the materials. The report said the NNSA had completed security upgrades at only 321 of 1,503 medical facilities it identified as high-risk because they store extensive amounts of radiological material. The NNSA said it would not be able to complete upgrades until 2025, leaving important facilities vulnerable. The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, blamed delays on security requirements that are voluntary and too broad. The report also spelled out numerous examples of poor security. In one instance, an unidentified big-city hospital kept cesium-137, a highly poisonous radioactive chemical, in a padlocked room, with the combination to the lock written on the door frame in a busy hallway. At another hospital, the number of people with access to radioactive material could not be monitored because the computer program that tracked comings and goings didn’t count beyond 500. Fourteen medical facilities refused to participate in the voluntary safeguards, the report said. Four of the unidentified facilities are in big cities. “The longer it takes to implement the security upgrades, the greater the risk that potentially dangerous radiological sources remain unsecured and could be used as terrorist weapons,” the GAO said. David McIntyre, a spokesman at the NRC, said in an e-mail that the agency and state regulators have imposed tougher security requirements on facilities with licenses for radiological material since the 2001 attacks. He also said the NRC and the NNSA cooperate in the voluntary security program. The GAO findings underscore the larger problem of storage and tracking of nuclear materials around the world. Better nuclear safeguards were among the recommendations of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission. “We always regarded it as one of the most important,” former New Jersey governor Thomas H. Kean, who chaired the commission and keeps track of compliance with its 41 recommendations, said in an interview. “A nuclear terrorist attack is not the most likely, but it could be the most catastrophic.” Radioactive material is used in diagnosing and treating cancer and other diseases. In hospital settings, it is usually encased in metal. There has been no known terrorist theft of nuclear materials from medical facilities. Still, the terrorism risk has focused on the use of radioactive material to build rough bombs that could cause widespread economic damage and panic if detonated in a subway or high-rise building as well as more sophisticated “suitcase” bombs that could be more powerful.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

I expect NNSA to control the sources of dirty bombs just as well as they were in control of the fences at Y12.

Yes, I know that it wasn't NNSA folks actually working the cameras, sensors and physical arrests, but they gave a passing grade in years past on a system that appears to have been seriously broken. I've dealt with NNSA people on other matters. It's what is on their paper regulations as opposed to the real world that they depend upon.

Anonymous said...

Paranoia strikes deep. Into your life it will creep. It starts when you're always afraid... Buffalo Springfield was talking about today's "Homeland Security" craziness. Please detail the actual threat of "dirty bombs" except in the fevered minds of scientist at national labs who are desperate for federal funding. If anyone steals radioactive material from hospitals in this country it will be stupid dopers who read a story like this. Worry about much more dangerous materials in other countries that are totally unprotected.

Anonymous said...

That's a very interesting point. Probably less likely and less risk than attacks involving trains, planes, or truck bombs. It does seem ridiculous as to the amount of money we put into border detection and other activities. The labs get money for work and analysis relating to dirty bomb attacks. Funding going to all three weapons labs and the other science labs as well. Makes me think this is more about money than about relative risk.

Anonymous said...

"Probably less likely and less risk than attacks involving trains, planes, or truck bombs. It does seem ridiculous as to the amount of money we put into border detection and other activities."

Agreed - but it seems to me this paranoia is more a result of the public’s ignorance/fear of the atom.


Anonymous said...

Agreed - but it seems to me this paranoia is more a result of the public’s ignorance/fear of the atom.

September 13, 2012 4:05 AM

True, but this paranoia is actually fed and nourished by DHS and the various labs it funds to do research. They've obviously discovered that public fear = funding. There can be no such thing as a non-political, non-biased relative risk assessment. Thanks to Napolitano and her ilk, the public has been conditioned to expect and demand zero risk.

Anonymous said...

Yes these are two sides of the same coin. That ignorance and paranoia feeds back on itself because the government (DHS, DoE) reinforce it by pumping money into these programs. Also they don't have any better alternative programs to put money into, but a healthy agency is one that needs to keep growing in size.

Anonymous said...

...a healthy agency is one that needs to keep growing in size.

September 13, 2012 11:25 AM

This is classic liberal thinking. Actually a "healthy" agency is one whose mission is closely defined and constrained, absolutely necessary for the wellbeing of the nation, within Constitutional boundaries, and which can continue to perform its mission without constant budget increases. Using those criteria, there are no "healthy" agencies in the current US government, only sick ones.

Anonymous said...

Dirty bomb = Non issue.

Anonymous said...

'Eleven years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks focused attention on the possibility that terrorists could use crude nuclear devices, the analysis by the Government Accountability Office described numerous instances of failure to secure highly radioactive material at hospitals. “Medical facilities currently are not required to take any specific actions to make sure these materials are safe, and many have very sloppy practices, which is remarkable nearly 11 years after 9/11,” the report says, according to a copy of the draft scheduled for release Tuesday and provided to The Washington Post.'

Why should this matter? Recent event at LANL confirms that radiological materials can just "walk out" of a NNSA facility and no one had any idea that it was happening.

Anonymous said...

Recent event at LANL confirms that radiological materials can just "walk out" of a NNSA facility and no one had any idea that it was happening.

September 19, 2012 8:04 AM

As succinctly stated above, it is a non-issue as regards national security.

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