Radiological Sources in Iraq:

DOD Should Evaluate Its Source Recovery Effort and Apply Lessons Learned to Future Recovery Missions

GAO-05-672: Published: Sep 7, 2005. Publicly Released: Sep 7, 2005.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Eugene E. Aloise
(202) 512-6870
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

Following the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, concerns were raised about the security of Iraq's radiological sources. Such sources are used in medicine, industry, and research, but unsecured sources could pose risks of radiation exposure, and terrorists could use them to make "dirty bombs." This report provides information on (1) the readiness of the Department of Defense (DOD) to collect and secure sources, (2) the number of sources DOD collected and secured, (3) U.S. assistance to help regulate sources in Iraq, and (4) the lessons DOD and the Department of Energy learned.

DOD was not ready to collect and secure radiological sources when the war began in March 2003 and for about 6 months thereafter. Before DOD could collect radiological sources, it had to specify criteria for which sources should be collected and how to safely collect them, coordinate within DOD, coordinate assistance from the Department of Energy (DOE), and resolve contract issues. DOD did not issue guidance for collecting and securing sources until July 2003 and did not finalize the terms of the contract to collect sources until September 2003. Until radiological sources could be collected, some sources were looted and scattered, and some troops were diverted from their regular combat duties to guard sources in diverse places. In June 2004, DOD removed about 1,000 of the 1,400 radiological sources collected in Iraq and sent them to the United States for disposal. DOD left in place approximately 700 additional sources that it had judged were adequately secured and being used properly by Iraqis. According to DOD and Department of State officials, however, the total number of radiological sources in Iraq remains unknown. The United States assisted in establishing an Iraqi agency to regulate radiological sources. Since June 2004, State and DOE have helped this new agency develop an action plan with assistance from the International Atomic Energy Agency. However, according to State officials, because of uncertainties associated with the continuing formation of the Iraqi government, State will have to monitor Iraqi efforts to ensure the continued growth and success of an independent, competent, and sustainable regulatory authority for the control of radioactive sources and materials. Both DOD and DOE are considering improvements based on their Iraq experiences. A 2004 study of lessons learned, requested by DOD, recommended that DOD develop the capability to quickly eliminate weapons of mass destruction in hostile environments, but it did not focus on the narrower radiological source mission. In contrast, DOE has contracted for a study to examine lessons from its role in removing radiological sources from Iraq.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To ensure that planning and preparing for potential future missions is carried out in advance, the Secretary of Defense should provide specific guidance for collecting and securing radiological sources, including identifying under which circumstances and for what purposes DOD will contract with private firms to conduct activities to collect and secure radiological sources, and address legal and contracting issues to ensure the timely use of contractors.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Citing the many possible roles that contractor might play in future operations, DoD stated the situation does not lend itself to specific and prescriptive contracting guidelines. However, without somehow capturing the contracting lessons from Iraq, DOD risks re-experiencing similar contracting issues and delays in future operations.

    Recommendation: To ensure that planning and preparing for potential future missions is carried out in advance, the Secretary of Defense should provide specific guidance for collecting and securing radiological sources, including establishing agreements and points of contact with DOE and other federal agencies, as needed, to specify the coordination, technical expertise, equipment, and facilities that may be needed to collect and secure sources in, or remove them from, a foreign country.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DoD has identified no established agreements or formal points of contract with DOE or other federal agencies regarding possible future missions to collect, secure, or remove radiological sources from a foreign country.

    Recommendation: To ensure that planning and preparing for potential future missions is carried out in advance, the Secretary of Defense should provide specific guidance for collecting and securing radiological sources, including officially designating the organization responsible within DOD for collecting, securing, and disposing of sources and establishing agreements between that organization and other DOD organizations that may be involved with these efforts.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD replied that its Strategic Command (STRATCOM) was developing a concept of operations for the WMD elimination mission, and a contingency plan to integrate and synchronize the Department's WMD combat efforts. The U.S. Army's 20th Support Command was subsequently designated to be the organization that would carry out the mission of eliminating weapons of mass destruction and related materials, including radiological sources. On December 1, 2007, DOD published standard operating procedures that established how the 20th Support Command would operate in support of major combat operations. This document describes the organizational structure that the 20th Support Command would take on during combat operations, how the 20th Support Command would interact with other DOD organizations, such as combatant commanders, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, and STRATCOM.

    Recommendation: To ensure that planning and preparing for potential future missions is carried out in advance, the Secretary of Defense should provide specific guidance for collecting and securing radiological sources, including specifying the health and safety standards, after considering how U.S. standards for handling, securing, transporting, and disposing of radiological sources were modified for use in Iraq.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Citing the availability of existing guidance, DoD did not concur with this recommendation. A 2009 response from the 20th Support Command stated that it has been difficult to establish firm guidance based on the Iraq experience, since future operations may involve different threats than found in Iraq.

    Recommendation: To ensure that planning and preparing for potential future missions is carried out in advance, the Secretary of Defense should provide specific guidance for collecting and securing radiological sources, including determining criteria to define which radiological sources (1) are of greatest risk and should be collected, (2) are being properly used and secured and thus can be left in place, and (3) pose minimal threat and thus do not need to be collected.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DoD has not clarified the criteria to define which radiological sources (1) are of greatest risk and should be collected, (2) are being properly used and secured and thus can be left in place, and (3) pose minimal threat and thus do not need to be collected. Its response cited an existing list of radiological sources that is prioritized by risk factors. Although the list is useful start, it is not sufficient for specifying criteria. Criteria must also address how to determine which sources are being properly used and secured or which are in excess of what is needed for peaceful purposes.

    Recommendation: To ensure that planning and preparing for potential future missions is carried out in advance, the Secretary of Defense should provide specific guidance for collecting and securing radiological sources, including integrating the objective of collecting and securing radiological sources with military combat objectives, including specifying how security protection, if needed, would be provided to the organization with responsibility for managing radiological sources and whether combat troops would be required to secure sources and provide protection for operations to collect and secure radiological sources.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: June 2009 guidance intends to better integrate DOD combat forces and weapons-of-mass-destruction (WMD) elimination forces, the latter which have the ability to collect, secure, and dispose of radiological sources in hostile or combat environments. For instance, the combatant commander is to plan for elimination and to provide security and logistic support to WMD elimination forces.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the types of problems experienced with the planning and preparing for securing Iraqi radiological sources do not recur, the Secretary of Defense should comprehensively review DOD's experience for lessons learned for potential future missions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD's case report for our study cited only the lessons learned from the Nuclear Disablement Team (NDT). Although NDT's effort to capture its experiences and lessons is laudable, it cannot by itself produce a comprehensive review. The Defense Threat Reduction Agency, a separate DOD organization that collected most of the radiological sources, must contribute to any comprehensive review.

    Recommendation: To ensure that planning and preparing for potential future missions is carried out in advance, the Secretary of Defense should provide specific guidance for collecting and securing radiological sources, including establishing guidelines concerning the role of radiological experts from the country where sources need to be collected and secured.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Although DoD concurred with this recommendation, DoD has not identified any specific guidance regarding the role of radiological experts in the host nation. The recent 2009 guidance on WMD elimination discussed coordination with host nations, but it does not provide any guidelines for the role of radiological experts from the country where sources need to be collected and secured.

    Apr 16, 2014

    Apr 3, 2014

    Apr 1, 2014

    Mar 13, 2014

    Mar 11, 2014

    Mar 10, 2014

    Mar 6, 2014

    Feb 14, 2014

    Feb 11, 2014

    Looking for more? Browse all our products here