Security of radioactive materials | USGAO

What the GAO found

The chances of a dirty bomb attack are increasing and the consequences could be devastating. The GAO reported in 2019 that a dirty bomb using radioactive materials could trigger mass evacuations and have multi-billion dollar socio-economic costs. For example, a hospital accident in 2019 involving a small amount of radioactive material resulted in cleanup and other costs of $150 million for that building alone. Many GAO recommendations to reduce the risks of these materials have yet to be implemented.

Why GAO Did This Study

Many incidents point to weaknesses in the controls of radioactive materials that could be used in a dirty bomb. The vulnerabilities arise because NRC’s security requirements fail to account for the most devastating potential effects, including billions of dollars in cleanup costs and deaths and injuries from chaotic evacuations. Additionally, weaknesses in licensing make it relatively easy for malicious actors to obtain small amounts of high-risk radioactive material, which could be dangerous in the wrong hands. Given the risks associated with these materials, which are widely used, it may be time to consider making greater use of alternatives, where possible. Previously, the GAO has recommended that Congress consider this issue.

For more information, contact Allison Bawden at (202) 512-3841 or [email protected]

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