How easy is it to get the materials to build a dirty bomb? Very, report says

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All it takes to get enough radioactive material to build dirty bomb It is a fraudulent company and fraudulent licenses, according to a new government watchdog report.

The report from the Government Accountability Office, obtained exclusively by NBC News, explains how a bad actor can easily get their hands on the type of substances that could then be used to cause “hundreds of deaths from evacuations and billions of dollars in social and economic impacts.”

The Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan congressional auditing agency, has called on the agency responsible for controlling the distribution of radioactive materials, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), to implement more stringent screening methods immediately.

Rep. Tom Malinowski, DN.J. , a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, which commissioned the report: “We already knew that the threat of a dirty bomb attack in the United States is real.”

“There are actual terrorist groups, including neo-Nazi groups in the United States, trying to get a dirty bomb to launch real attacks against civilians,” he said. “Now the GAO tells us it’s very easy for anyone to get the materials needed in the United States to make a dirty bomb.”

In a statement to NBC News, the NRC said it was taking action related to the issues identified in the report, including promptly communicating with manufacturers of radioactive materials and expediting a rule change to better verify purchase licenses.

But she said the report’s findings did not justify an emergency rule change.

The agency added that “imposing immediate security requirements would risk unintended effects on the important and safe medical, academic and industrial uses of these materials.”

Radioactive materials are used across the United States for a variety of purposes, including to help treat cancer and to sterilize foods and medical instruments. But because it can be used to make a dirty bomb that uses conventional explosives to spread radioactive material, the NRC regulates its sale and use.

According to the report, the need to closely monitor the distribution of radioactive material is now particularly acute. Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration officials told GAO investigators that current assessments of the threat environment “show an increased interest in using radioactive material to make a dirty bomb,” the report said.

NRC requires a paper license to purchase smaller quantities of radioactive material. But GAO investigators have found that licenses can be altered and used to make illegal purchases of materials.

Investigators tested the NRC system by creating shell companies and falsifying copies of the license. They contacted various sellers in the US and soon received the invoices for the purchases. After the sellers received payment, they shipped the items to investigators pretending to be company executives, the report says.

The investigators eventually received a quantity of Class 3 radioactive material, which is lower than Class 1 or 2 but still sufficient to cause significant damage if dispersed with a dirty bomb. Stricter rules apply to purchasing a larger quantity of radioactive material, but the investigation found that a malicious actor could elude them by “purchasing multiple quantities of Category 3 from multiple vendors,” the report says.

The United States has seen cases of radioactive material falling into the wrong hands.

Jared Trent Atkins. Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office

In April 2019, a Phoenix man, Jared Trent Atkins, stole three devices containing radioactive material from his workplace, then hid inside his home in a confrontation with the police. He eventually surrendered and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

The new GAO report is not the first to be produced on radioactive materials.

In March 2006, it released a report that showed how unlicensed radioactive material could have been transported through US ports of entry using a fraudulent license. The Government Accountability Office said US Customs and Border Protection then took action to address the problem.

In a 2016 investigation, investigators obtained commitments to purchase a dangerous amount of radioactive material after setting up shell companies and amending a valid license. The new report says that the NRC has not yet implemented any recommendations from that report.

Didi Martinez And the Kristen Powers Contributed.



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