Senator: Tighten controls on radioactive material


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harrisburg — A U.S. senator is urging the Obama administration to tighten procedures after a congressional audit found security problems at companies using radioactive material.

In a letter June 19 to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania said he was troubled that the Government Accountability Office found at least two cases in which employees with extensive criminal histories were granted unescorted access to high-risk radiobiological sources. One employee stole from the company and the other impersonated a radiography inspector, the GAO found.

The concern is that a terrorist could use stolen material in a so-called dirty bomb that spews radioactive material.

“It is unacceptable that these individuals would be allowed unfettered access to such sensitive radioactive material," Casey, D-Pa., wrote.

He urged the NRC to adopt rules that would disqualify a prospective employee if the person had a conviction for terroristic threats. In addition, any candidates with criminal histories should get a tighter review at a minimum to ensure they can be trusted to have unescorted access to radioactive material, Casey said.

Many businesses are licensed to hold radioactive material, which is often used in industrial processes in the oil and gas, aerospace and food sterilization sectors.

A spokesman for the NRC, David McIntyre, said he could not comment directly until the agency reviewed the letter. But he noted that prospective employees go through extensive background checks that include fingerprinting, character references and a review of criminal history.

The audit was based on visits to 33 industrial facilities, including some in Pennsylvania.


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