U.S. Agency Fails to Address Potential "Dirty Bomb" Threat, Lawmaker Says

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission would be ignoring the potential use of cesium chloride as an ingredient in radiological "dirty bombs" by refusing to prohibit the use of the radioactive isotope, U.S. Representative Edward Markey (D-Mass.) said Friday (see GSN, Sept. 25; U.S. Representative Edward Markey release, Dec. 12).

The commission announced Friday that staffers had recommended employing heightened security measures rather than replacement of the material, which is used in medical and industrial devices. A press release said the commission itself had not made its decision.

“These radiation sources perform critical functions in blood sterilization and medical and industrial research, and society would suffer from a rush to replace them before effective alternatives are available,” Bill Borchardt, NRC executive director for operations, said in the release. “Clearly the best course of action for now is to emphasize security improvements already in place and continually look for additional ways to enhance their security" (U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission release, Dec. 12).

That did not sit well with Markey.

"It seems painfully obvious to take dangerous nuclear materials out of circulation when there are safer, effective alternatives available," he said in a press release. "But the NRC is blind to this chance to protect the public. Cesium chloride is a prime example of a radioactive material that can and should be replaced as soon as possible. The best form of security is simply not having dirty bomb materials sitting around that need to be secured."

A dirty bomb would use conventional explosives to disperse radioactive material.

A National Academy of Sciences report in February found that cesium chloride could be replaced in most or all uses by safer materials, Markey said. He co-sponsored legislation that would require the material to be phased out of use wherever possible and to prohibit licensing of additional sources (Markey release).

December 15, 2008
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The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission would be ignoring the potential use of cesium chloride as an ingredient in radiological "dirty bombs" by refusing to prohibit the use of the radioactive isotope, U.S. Representative Edward Markey (D-Mass.) said Friday (see GSN, Sept. 25; U.S. Representative Edward Markey release, Dec. 12).