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San Onofre’s not the only nuclear worry – there are “nuclear materials events” — lost or stolen radioactive material, radiation overexposures, leaks, and more.

Worried about nuclear waste at San Onofre? Other danger lurks

GAO sounds alarms about dirty bombs fashioned from small amounts of medical, industrial material  Experts in protective gear prepare to sweep the University of Washington Research and Training Building after the accidental release of radioactive cesium-137 in 2019. (U.S. Government Accountability Office)

By TERI SFORZA | tsforza@scng.com | Orange County Register: April 11, 2022

In one doomsday scenario, rocket attacks on the nuclear waste stored at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station send plumes of dangerous radiation skyward.

Critics in Southern California spend a lot of time worrying about the safety of the 3.6 million pounds of spent fuel entombed on the bluff above the blue Pacific — but the U.S. Government Accountability Office fixes its gaze on more mundane, and perhaps more terrifying, scenarios involving much smaller amounts of nuclear material routinely used by businesses, hospitals, universities and the like.

“The risks of an attack using a dirty bomb — a weapon that combines a conventional explosive, like dynamite, with radioactive material — are increasing and the costs could be devastating,” said the GAO in a snapshot released Tuesday, April 5.

“For example, weaknesses in Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing for radioactive materials make it too easy for bad actors to obtain them, and NRC’s security requirements don’t account for the potentially devastating effects of a dirty bomb, such as billions of dollars in cleanup costs and deaths from chaotic evacuations.”

More than 2,000 “nuclear materials events” — including lost or stolen radioactive material, radiation overexposures, leaks of radioactive material and more — were reported by the NRC between 2010 and 2019, the GAO found.

In  April 2019, an Arizona technician was arrested after stealing three radioactive devices from his workplace. According to a court filing, the technician intended to release the radioactive materials at a shopping mall, but was stopped before he could do any harm.

An accident at the University of Washington in 2019, involving a small amount of material, required clean-up and other costs of $150 million for one building alone, the GAO said.

In 2016, the GAO created a fake company to get a license for radioactive materials. GAO altered the license “and used it to obtain commitments to acquire a dangerous quantity of material.”

“The number of incidents of thefts, lost shipments, and careless mishandling are outrageously large,” said Edwin Lyman, director of nuclear power safety for the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit NRC watchdog

Even though very few of these lead to significant radiological consequences to the public, the NRC’s lax requirements fall short of best practices.”

Common stuff

Radioactive material is used in many medical and industrial settings in Southern California and throughout the nation. Small amounts help create images of organs, so doctors can find, identify and track tumors. Radioactive materials are used to kill cancer cells, shrink tumors and alleviate pain.

But security is an increasingly acute issue, the GAO said.

In 2018, the GAO reported that officials at U.S. airports had not verified the legitimacy of all licenses for imported radioactive materials.

“GAO has repeatedly found potential security weaknesses at medical and industrial locations storing such materials in the U.S.,” it said in one of many reports on the issue over the past several years.

“For example, in 2014, GAO reported that an individual had been given unescorted access to high-risk radioactive materials, even though he had two convictions for terroristic threat. Furthermore, small quantities of radioactive materials located within the same facility are not subject to enhanced security requirements that the total amount would be required to meet.”……………………………

Lyman, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, acknowledged that the NRC has taken some action to address the most egregious problems the GAO has identified over the years, but has not gone as far as many want.

“I do support the effort for better tracking and security of radioactive sources,” Lyman said………………….https://www.ocregister.com/2022/04/11/worried-about-nuclear-waste-at-san-onofre-other-danger-lurks/

April 12, 2022 - Posted by | incidents, USA

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