Concerns have grown that terrorists could use radioactive materials and sealed sources (materials sealed in a capsule) to build a "dirty bomb"-- a device using conventional explosives to disperse radioactive material. In 2003, GAO found weaknesses in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) radioactive materials licensing process and made recommendations for improvement. For this report, GAO assesses (1) the progress NRC has made in implementing the 2003 recommendations, (2) other steps NRC has taken to improve its ability to track radioactive materials, (3) Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) ability to detect radioactive materials at land ports of entry, and (4) CBP's ability to verify that such materials are appropriately licensed prior to entering the United States. To perform this work, GAO assessed documents and interviewed NRC and CBP officials in headquarters and in several field locations.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Nuclear Regulatory Commission||Given the repeated delays in implementing improvements to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's ability to monitor and track radioactive sealed sources, the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission should take steps, consistent with sound systems development practices, to ensure that priority attention is given to meeting the current January 2009 and summer 2010 target dates for launching the National Source Tracking System, Web-based licensing system, and the new license verification system, respectively.|
|Nuclear Regulatory Commission||Because some quantities of radioactive materials are potentially dangerous to human health if not properly handled, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission should complete the steps needed to include all potentially dangerous radioactive sources (category 3 and the larger category 4 sources, as well as categories 1 and 2) in the National Source Tracking System as quickly as is reasonably possible.|
|Department of Homeland Security||To improve the likelihood of preventing radioactive sources and materials from being smuggled into the United States, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection to effectively communicate current Customs and Border Protection guidance to officers at ports of entry regarding when they are required to contact the National Targeting Center to verify that radioactive materials are legitimately licensed.|
|Department of Homeland Security||To improve the likelihood of preventing radioactive sources and materials from being smuggled into the United States, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection to take measures to ensure that this guidance is being followed.|