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NNSA Works With New York City to Counter Radiological Threats

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) today announced that it has successfully completed the pick-up of a high-activity cesium-137 device that had been in secure storage at a hospital in New York City. The recovery of the cesium source is part of a comprehensive effort that NNSA initiated in New York City in September of 2009.

“This recovery is part of NNSA’s broad strategy to keep dangerous nuclear and radiological material safe and secure and protect the American people by enhancing our nation’s nuclear security,” said Principal Assistant Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Ken Baker. “The city of New York has shown outstanding leadership in this joint effort, and NNSA plans to build upon this successful cooperation in other cities throughout the U.S.”

Radiological source recovered from NYC hospitalNNSA recovered the cesium device from now-closed St. Vincent’s hospital in Lower Manhattan. Such devices are subject to enhanced federal and state regulatory security requirements and the St. Vincent's blood irradiator was securely stored until it could be picked up by NNSA’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI). The GTRI routinely collects radioactive sources no longer being used from companies licensed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) or a state, upon request. St. Vincent’s hospital partnered with NNSA to safely and securely remove the device once it was no longer needed for hospital operations.

Prior to decommissioning the device, St. Vincent’s was part of a pilot project volunteer for several NNSA source security enhancement efforts in New York City. St. Vincent’s was one of the first sites in the U.S. to voluntarily enhance the security of their cesium device through an in-device delay project now run by NNSA in cooperation with several major irradiator manufacturers.

St. Vincent’s has also played a critical leadership role in NNSA’s voluntary source security enhancement efforts in New York City. Last October, the hospital agreed to volunteer for NNSA’s source security enhancement project in New York City and hosted a key meeting with major radioactive source users in the area to kick off NNSA’s efforts to accelerate source security projects there.

Cooperation between NNSA and New York City began in September 2009 when officials from GTRI joined the New York Police Department (NYPD) to testify on radiological security at a Congressional field hearing in Brooklyn. In the nine months since the hearing, NNSA has provided more than $7 million to accelerate efforts to enhance radiological security in New York City.

In partnership with the NYPD, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the New York State Department of Health, the New York State Office of Homeland Security, and 9 partner sites in NYC, NNSA has begun security enhancements at 28 buildings with over 85,000 Curies (Ci) of radioactive material. NNSA has also conducted 2 Alarm Response Training courses for more than 80 NYC security personnel and conducted a counterterrorism table top exercise for local first responders and the FBI New York City Field Office.

The source recovery announced today is the latest example of the cooperation to counter potential radiological threats.  NNSA and its New York partners are planning to complete security upgrades at several licensee facilities in and around the New York City area that contain high-activity radioactive sources, and to conduct additional training and exercises over the next year. In addition, the NYPD Counterterrorism Division plans to directly monitor critical alarms coming from the installed security systems at their Lower Manhattan Security Initiative center to further improve response time and situational awareness if there were to be any threats directed at these radioactive materials.

Every year, many sources become disused and unwanted in the United States. While secure storage is a temporary measure, the longer sources remain disused or unwanted, the greater the chance that they will become unsecured or abandoned. Due to their high activity and portability, radioactive sealed sources contained in devices such as these irradiators could be used in radiological dispersal devices (RDD) commonly referred to as “dirty bombs.” An attack using an RDD could result in significant economic impacts, considerable social disruption and serious potential public health problems.

As part of NNSA’s nuclear security mission, GTRI works with other federal and state partners to reduce and protect vulnerable nuclear and radiological materials located at sites worldwide. To date, NNSA has recovered more than 25,000 disused and unwanted radioactive sealed sources in the United States containing more than 768,000 Ci of activity. One of the program’s core goals is to remove and dispose of excess nuclear and radiological materials, resulting in permanent threat reduction. GTRI is part of NNSA’s comprehensive nuclear nonproliferation efforts currently at work in over 100 countries around the world to detect, secure and dispose of dangerous nuclear and radiological material.

These NNSA security efforts in New York City, including the source recovery, are part of a larger program to further reduce the potential risks of terrorism involving nuclear and radioactive materials in the United States. NNSA and NRC have partnered with state, local, and tribal governments, other federal agencies and the private sector to build on the existing NRC regulatory requirements by providing voluntary security enhancements. The NRC and state regulatory agencies have worked together to create a strong and effective regulatory framework that includes licensing, inspection, and enforcement, which provides a common baseline level of security to ensure adequate protection.

NNSA voluntary enhancements are complementary to, and do not replace licensees obligation to meet regulatory requirements. The voluntary security enhancements are sound, cost-effective, and prudent best practices which further improve security above regulatory requirements.

NNSA has targeted over 3,000 buildings domestically for these voluntary security enhancements and looks to continue partnerships with state and local agencies in major metropolitan areas to accelerate voluntary security enhancement efforts for high-activity radioactive materials within their regions.

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Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science in the nation’s national security enterprise. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability, and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; reduces the global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the U.S. and abroad.