Friday, July 13, 2007

That's not good

Over a year ago, a government investigation found that they could--with no trouble at all--get enough radioactive material to make two "dirty bombs" through U.S. border investigations. And now, we find out that things don't seem to have improved too much in 15 ½ months:
Congressional investigators set up a bogus company with only a postal box and within a month obtained a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that allowed them to buy enough radioactive material for a small "dirty bomb."

Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., who will ask the NRC about the incident at a Senate hearing Thursday, said the sting operation raises concerns about terrorists obtaining such material just as easily.

Nobody at the NRC checked whether the company was legitimate and an agency official even helped the investigators fill out the application form, Coleman said in an interview Wednesday.


The license that was obtained allowed for the purchase of up to five portable moisture density gauges widely used in construction, in which are encased small amounts of cesium-137 and americium 241, two highly radioactive isotopes.

Individually, these devices pose little threat because of the small amount of radioactive material, radiation experts say. Still the devices require an NRC license to be purchased and must be closely safeguarded by companies that use them to avoid theft.

But the investigators from the Government Accountability Office, Congress' investigative arm, found a way to purchase as many as 45 of the gauges and could have bought many more because they duplicated the NRC-issued license and removed the restrictions on the amount that could be purchased.

"With patience and the proper financial resources, we could have accumulated from other suppliers substantially more radioactive source material than what the two supplies initially agreed to ship to us," says the GAO in a report prepared for Thursday's hearing.


[Coleman] said "there is no question" they could have obtained enough radioactive material to make a dirty bomb because the GAO was able to duplicate the certificate and no one checked on the company or whether the counterfeit license was legitimate.


The GAO said that it contacted two suppliers of the gauges and that one "offered to provide twice as many machines as we requested and offered a discount for volume purchases." The investigators also were told that the supplier does not check with NRC to confirm the terms on the license, a copy of which was sent to the supplier along with the purchase order.

The NRC said that they've fixed the problem, though, so I'm sure we're safe forever.

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