What GAO Found
The risks of a dirty bomb attack are increasing and the consequences could be devastating. GAO reported in 2019 that a dirty bomb using radioactive materials could trigger mass evacuations and have socioeconomic costs of billions of dollars. For example, an accident at a hospital in 2019 involving a small quantity of radioactive materials resulted in clean-up and other costs of $150 million for that building alone. Many GAO recommendations to reduce the risks of these materials have not yet been implemented.
Why GAO Did This Study
Numerous incidents indicate weaknesses in controls over radioactive materials that could be used in a dirty bomb. Vulnerabilities arise because NRC’s security requirements do not take into account the most devastating potential effects, including billions of dollars in cleanup costs, and deaths and injuries from chaotic evacuations. In addition, weaknesses in licensing make it relatively easy for bad actors to obtain small quantities of high-risk radioactive materials, which could be dangerous in the wrong hands. Given the risks associated with these materials, which are in widespread use, it may be time to consider greater reliance on alternatives, when feasible. Previously, GAO has recommended that Congress consider this matter.
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