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Security for Radioactive Sources: Fact Sheet

March 23, 2012

Radioactive materials are a critical and beneficial component of global medical, industrial, and academic efforts.  The possibility that these materials could be used by terrorists is a national security concern. The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), along with international and domestic partners, addresses radiological material security as part of its nuclear nonproliferation mission.

US Radioactive Material Security

The ultimate responsibility for securing radioactive materials in the United States rests with the licensees that possess these materials.  Domestically, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and NNSA partner with state, local, and tribal governments, other federal agencies and the private sector with a common goal of preventing radiological material from being used in a “dirty bomb”. 

Domestic Security Requirements

Regulatory control over the safety and security of radioactive sources is mainly under the authority of the NRC.  The NRC and state regulatory agencies work together to create a strong and effective regulatory framework that includes licensing, inspection, and enforcement.  This framework provides a common baseline level of security and includes: 

  • limiting access to only approved individuals and verification of true identity
  • installing intrusion detection systems
  • enhancing security for portable and mobile devices
  • coordinating with local law enforcement to respond to an actual or attempted theft, sabotage, or diversion of radioactive materials;
  • promptly notifying appropriate government agencies about incidents; and
  • closely monitoring shipments to ensure their security during transit

In 2009, the NRC implemented the National Source Tracking System (NSTS) to track and account for all the radioactive sources that warrant greatest control.

Voluntary Security Enhancements

NNSA, through its Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), provides voluntary security enhancements.  These voluntary security enhancements are complementary to and do not replace the licensees’ requirements to meet NRC and Agreement State regulations.  The GTRI effort is a way for sites to identify security best practices beyond regulatory compliance. Voluntary security enhancements include:

  • Facilities: NNSA’s voluntary security enhancements complement NRC’s regulatory security requirements and are installed at facilities that house high-risk radioactive sources. The security upgrades are aimed at enhancing deterrence, control, detection, delay, response, and sustainability.  Remote monitoring systems are installed at the highest risk sources to help protect against the insider threat and to immediately alert armed local responders.
  • Fixed Devices:  The United States Government (USG) and the private sector are working together to increase the in-device delay times for blood and research irradiators as well as a Gamma Knife.  The purpose of the program is to install hardened kits on existing irradiators to significantly increase the time needed for unauthorized source removal so that responders have additional time to apprehend perpetrators.   
  • Mobile Devices:  The USG partnered with the oilfield services industry to co-author specific guidelines to enhance security of logging equipment focused on radioactive devices stored at base camps, during transportation and in use at drill sites.

Excess Sources

NNSA’s Offsite Source Recovery Project addresses the end of a radiological source’s working life.  Due to limited commercial disposition options, the project’s mission is to remove excess, unwanted, abandoned, or orphan radioactive sealed sources that pose a potential risk to national security, public health, and/or safety.


NNSA and other USG agencies work collaboratively to provide response training for site and local officials through Critical Alarm Response Training and WMD Counterterrorism Table Top Exercises.  Alarm response training and table top exercises promote coordinated planning, communications, cooperation, and team-building among first responders and responsible officials in a dynamic environment, strengthening their real world capabilities to address nuclear and radiological incidents.

International Collaboration

NRC, NNSA, and other USG agencies have complementary and coordinated programs aimed at assisting our international counterparts to improve the security of nuclear and radioactive materials.  These efforts include working bilaterally with the host country, regionally with the host and other donor countries, and/or in partnership with the IAEA, Europol, and Interpol.

Since April 2010, NNSA has worked domestically to:

  • Assess 304 radiological buildings.
  • Complete 231 radiological buildings security upgrades.
  • Assess seven research and test reactors.
  • Complete security upgrades at four research and test reactors.
  • Harden from tampering 191 cesium chloride (CsCl) sealed source self-shielded irradiators with in-device delay kits.
  • Complete 34 Alarm Response Training courses
  • Train 1,301 Alarm Response Training students from 113 sites.
  • Conduct 12 tabletop exercises with 1,301 attendees.
  • Recover 5,257 radiological sources from 163 sites in 37 states (51,677 curies total).

Since April 2010, NNSA has worked internationally to:

  • Assess 183 radiological buildings
  • Complete security upgrades at 117 radiological buildings.
  • Secure six additional sites by the IAEA using DOE funds/equipment/personnel.
  • Complete security upgrades at one research and test reactor.
  • Remove 98 radioisotopic thermoelectric generators.
  • Recover 1,865 radiological sources from eight countries (1,347 curies total).
  • Complete 6 tabletop exercises.
  • Complete 67 training courses.