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

By Rachel Oswald

Global Security Newswire

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. 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. (John Moore/Getty Images)

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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