The Nuclear Regulatory Commission blasted as unbalanced a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that found the small civilian agency should consider tighter regulation of nuclear material that terrorists could use in a radioactive dispersal device.
In the report published Thursday, the GAO said the NRC’s regulation of radioactive material storage should be stricter because of the indirect consequences of a so-called dirty bomb attack. These consequences, which the GAO classed as “socioeconomic consequences,” include deaths associated with evacuation of a ground-zero, plus the hazards and expense of environmental cleanup after an attack.
Congress’ investigative arm based the conclusion on recommendations gathered during a two-day meeting in July 2018 with “a group of experts” at the congressionally chartered National Academy of Sciences, according to the report.
Currently, the NRC writes its security regulations for radioactive-material security based mostly on the health risks of short-term exposure to that material, the GAO said. But the “socioeconomic consequences” of a terrorist attack using these materials could exceed $20 billion in some cases, David Trimble, the study’s lead author, said.
In a response appended to the report, a senior NRC official argued, among other things, that the GAO relied on a few isolated voices on the 18-person National Academy panel to reach unsound “overarching conclusions” about how well the not-quite-$1-billion-a-year agency safeguards material such as uranium and plutonium.
“NRC’s current regulatory requirements provide for the safe and secure use of radioactive materials,” Margaret Doane, the commission’s executive director for operations, wrote in a letter to Trimble, director of the GAO Natural Resources and Environment team.
The NRC is the federal regulator for civilian power plants and the spent nuclear fuel stored there. The agency also regulates the containers used to transport nuclear material, including government-owned nuclear material used in nuclear weapons programs.
Congress ordered up the GAO’s recent report on NRC security requirements — “Combating Nuclear Terrorism: NRC Needs to Take Additional Actions to Ensure the Security of High-Risk Radioactive Material” — in an omnibus appropriations bill signed in 2015.