Lost And Stolen Nuclear Materials in the U.S.


Lost and Stolen Nuclear Materials in the United States

"Right now, people are being irradiated..."

By Scott Portzline

Radiation can harm people without their knowledge since one can’t see it, hear it, feel it, taste it or smell it. You can be quite certain that there are numerous radioactive sources in position to harm or ultimately kill someone. Some of these sources will have been intentionally placed to cause injury or even death. For example -- someone deliberately contaminated the water cooler at the National Institute of Health two years ago. 



 "Because of the lack of regulatory control, right now, people are being irradiated by some of the approximately 9000 missing nuclear sources without any means of detecting the danger that they’re in."

Three Mile Island Alert Security Consultant Scott Portzline

Radioactive sources are being lost, stolen or illegally discarded every other day. Some of these are lost by overnight couriers. Nuclear contamination of packages, workers and delivery vehicles have occurred and you could one day receive a package which has been contaminated by a leaking source. Recently, a Federal Express jet was grounded until a radiation survey could determine if it was contaminated by a faulty shipment of radioactive material which had already irradiated other equipment, a vehicle and a person. A popular radioactive industrial gauge is stolen at the rate of once a month. When these are reported stolen, press releases are issued to warn the public of the danger.


Over the last 50 years, incidents of lost and stolen licensed radioactive devices occur at the rate of once every other day.
50 years x 52 weeks = 2600 weeks

9000 missing sources / 2600 weeks = 3.5 losses per week 

OR ------- 1 loss every other day






· Three sources of Cesium-137 are found beside an Orlando Florida road 2/21/2002

· A huge source-term of radioactive Iridium is reported lost during shipping by Purolator courier on 12/11/96

· A plot to deliberately contaminate/irradiate a man is discovered near Philadelphia and the source is recovered 1995

· The Millstone Nuclear Plant can't account for two highly radioactive fuel rods 4/16/2001 

· A woman near Pittsburgh takes into her home a contaminated floor scrubber which has radioactive levels more than 1000 times considered safe 10/96

· A gauge containing Cesium-137 is found at a shopping mall in Arkansas 3/2/99

· The US Navy reports 38 new cooking pots are made from steel contaminated with Cobalt-60 6/3/98

· Recliner chairs parts are manufactured with Cobalt-60 contaminated steel in Indiana 6/10/98

· A $5000 reward is offered in Florida for finding a missing potentially deadly radioactive camera 3/17/99

· A researcher at the University of California intentionally places radioactive phosphorus on another researcher's chair to deliberately contaminate her 7/2/99 (discovered)

· A doctor in Indiana PA disregards radiation alarms after a procedure which leads to the irradiation of more than 90 persons and kills the patient 11/92

· A plutonium pacemaker is reported missing by a hospital near Philadelphia 12/11/96

· 11 adults and 2 children are exposed to high levels of radiation at a Houston scrapyard and five police officers are exposed to low levels while conducting interviews 3/5/96 

· Cesium-137 is found in the trunk of a crushed car at a scrapyard in Cincinnati 5/31/96

· The FBI is called upon to investigate the circumstances surrounding the discovery of a large stash of radioactive materials in the Bronx New York. Investigators found Cesium, Radium, Strontium-90 and Carbon-14. 6/22/98

· Radioactive iodine is found in diapers at a garbage dump in Indianapolis 3/95

· For the third time in 2 months, a hospital in Minneapolis receives a radioactive contaminated package from the same corporation 12/19/96

· Five college-aged males are video taped stealing radioactive tritium from a glow-in-the-dark exit sign at Arizona State University on 10/26/96 

· Deliberate contamination incidents at MIT and the National Institute of Health are investigated by the FBI Summer 1995

· Three New Jersey teenagers take a "glow-in-the-dark" exit sign containing 20 curies of tritium from a demolition site. They break open the tubes of tritium while eating sunflower seeds and thereby ingest some of the tritium. 5/10/97

· 33,000 shovel blades are made with steel contaminated with radioactive thorium near Harrisburg Pennsylvania 3/25/97

· Protective lead aprons for nuclear medicine workers are made from radioactive lead supplied from a company in Littlestown Pennsylvania 5/28/97

· 2,184 chemical agent detectors containing radioactive sources are reported lost in Europe by the US Army since 1989 4/22/97

· An Army surplus store in Fayetteville North Carolina sells a total of 42 personal lighting devices (map readers, personell illuminators, torches) containing a total of 90.35 curies of radioactive tritium to unknown individuals against NRC regulations

· A cleanup crew hired to dispose of chemicals at a high school discovers a radioactive source where none were reported in the inventory 7/18/96

· A package of radioactive thallium falls out of a Federal Express van and is stuck by a car releasing its contents, Michigan 3/29/95 A similar event occurs in Massachusetts 12/18/96

· A truck driver loses a contaminated valve he is hauling near Philadelphia Pa. The driver is contaminated. 3/27/97

· A Federal Express cargo van loses a package of radioactive Xenon when it falls out the unsecured back door in Sacramento California 7/1/97 

· A nuclear plant workers puts a radioactive source into the coat pocket of a female worker near Chicago 1995

· A Russian-produced fuel assembly with 126 fuel rods containing 2% enriched uranium is unaccounted for by a US crew in Lynchburg, Va. 11/15/96

· Cesium-137 was found taped to the underside of the center drawer of a physician's desk at VA Medical Center Memphis, TN 05/22/93

· Someone put Strontium-90 in the rear pocket of a female worker at the Quad Cities Nuclear Plant 8/8/94

· A Brown University student was charged by police with attempting to poison his former girlfriend and her roommate by placing Iodine-125 in their food. 11/12/98

· Two men were arrested for plotting to kill three local officials by planting Radium-226 in their cars and food. Long Island, NY 6/11/96

Contaminated Floor Scrubber 

Harrisburg Patriot News 10/27/96 Brett Lieberman
Contaminated Machine Held in Former Nuclear Worker’s Home

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is trying to find out why an ex-employee of an Armstrong County manufacturer of radioactive fuel for nuclear power plants took a dangerously contaminated floor scrubber home with her when she walked off the job three years ago.

The scrubber contaminated by more than 1,000 times the radiation levels that the NRC consider safe for public exposure was returned to the company’s plant a week ago by the former employee’s husband.

The company, Babcock and Wilcox of Apollo Pennsylvania, notified the NRC of the incident Thursday. Upon testing, the company found approximately 100 square centimeters of fixed alpha contamination and 100 square centimeters of fixed beta contamination.

Alpha contamination cannot penetrate skin, or even a thin piece of paper. But, beta is considered hazardous. Removable contamination can easily rub off, but the fixed does not.

The scrubber had 1.2 grams of radioactive residue on it - 1,000 times safe limits. "These are highly radioactive materials. Even very small amounts could pose a danger," said NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan. "Its not at all unusual that that type of material would be around." He said. "It is unusual that an employee like that would that type of material home."

Babcock and Wilcox officials could not be reached for comment. A security guard at the Apollo plant said everybody had left for the day and would not be back until Monday. A call to the company’s Lynchburg, Va. headquarters was not returned yesterday afternoon.

An NRC Region 1 inspector is on site in Armstrong County and is monitoring the company’s action, Sheehan said. He said Babcock and Wilcox has contacted the former employee to determine if and where the scrubber was used during the last three years and to make sure no radioactive materials remains in the public domain.

There was no information yet of any public contamination, Sheehan said.

"We still need to find out why this material was taken home and if any other materials were taken." He said.

It is too early to determine whether the employee will face criminal penalties or whether the NRC would seek criminal or civil penalties against the company, Sheehan said.

Bizarre Death of 82 Year Old Woman  

An 82 year old woman was receiving brachytherapy for anal carcinoma in a treatment center in Pennsylvania during November 16, 1992. The therapy consisted of inserting 5 wires each containing 1 radioactive seed into the colon. But, when the wires were removed, one of the tiny wires containing an iridium seed broke off and remained in her colon. Radiation alarms should have alerted the staff that something was wrong. The staff and physician ignored the alarm thinking it was false since the console indicator showed "safe" and believed the source was fully retracted. They did not take a radiation survey with a portable radiation monitor.

The patient was taken back to her nursing home. For ten days, workers and visitors of the nursing home were unknowingly irradiated. The wire containing the seed fell out on the fourth day and disposed of in a medical biohazards bag which remained on site.

When the medical waste disposal truck arrived to haul the refuse, the driver failed to make a radiation survey with a portable survey meter as per company policy. The source was finally discovered at an incineration facility in Warren Ohio when radiation alarms indicated contamination.

Because the plant manager and supervisor could not determine which trailer contained the radioactive source, they decided to drive one tractor trailer at a time behind a concrete building to act as a shield. As soon as the trailer containing the radioactive source drove out from behind the building, the meter registered its highest level from 400 feet away. Upon searching the trailer, they were able to trace the bag to the nursing home.

An NCR incident Investigation team found that the patient received a serious mis-administration and had died five days after the failed treatment. The Indiana County Coroner’s report stated that the patient died of "Acute Radiational (sic) Exposure and the Consequences Thereof." Newspaper advertisements located some of the visitors to the nursing home who were irradiated. Some of the nursing home staff had what the NRC called "significant" doses. They determined that over 90 people were exposed.




"Parcel Briefly Astray Sets Off Nuclear Alert 

By Judy Rakowsky, Globe Staff, 04/27/99 

Ten days ago, a worker at a Burlington high-tech firm mailed off a 200-pound package containing enough radioactive iridium to kill anyone who ripped it open. 

The package was supposed to arrive by Federal Express at a Mexican construction firm the next morning. 

It never got there. 

For days, frantic regulators, Federal Express staffers, and executives of AEA Technology QSA, the sender, searched the region - including a mile-by-mile surveillance of the route from Burlington to Logan Airport for signs of any radiation leakage. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission went on special alert, just as though there had been an accident at a nuclear power plant. 

Yesterday, the package was found, intact, in a hangar at a small airport outside London. Just a routine mix-up, said Federal Express. 

But to others, the long, mysterious journey of the radioactive package casts sharp new light on the estimated 500,000 packages containing nuclear materials that get mailed every year through Logan alone. 

''Anytime you have something potentially dangerous and you lose it, it could be stolen or put someplace where people could be hurt,'' said Scott Portzline, a Harrisburg, Pa., nuclear watchdog who opposes sending such materials via common carriers. 

Federal Express, for its part, says the package was simply lost, like a misaddressed letter. And FedEx officials say it would have posed no risk to the public because it was properly packaged. 

Nonetheless, government regulators said the parcel would have been deadly to anyone who penetrated the thick packaging. 

And a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which may levy fines if it finds that regulations were violated, had declared an alert similar to the type used for accidents at nuclear plants after the package was reported missing on April 21. Regulators followed a prescribed search-and-report routine during the time the package was missing. 

''The larger concern is that someone who is not a qualified handler of this could obtain it, take it home, and cause damage,'' said Neil Sheehan, Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman. 

By law, weapons-grade radioactive material cannot be sent by common carriers. But some critics say that the sheer volume of other radioactive materials shipped commercially poses intolerable risks. 

An estimated half-a-million shipments of radioactive material pass through Logan each year, many of them from nuclear medicine producers such as Dupont in Billerica, said Robert Hallisey, director of the radiation control program of the state Department of Public Health. 

The NRC says that nationwide, misplacement of nuclear materials similar to the AEA incident this month occurs about once a year. NRC records indicate that a Dupont package of radioactive medicine was temporarily lost in February, and later recovered. 

But Hallisey said activists and others overreact to the potential danger. 

''There's always someone with `Chicken Little' syndrome,'' Hallisey said. ''But we think there are adequate controls in place for shipments of radioactive materials.'' 

A Federal Express spokesman said radioactive materials account for only one-half of 1 percent of the material the company handles. Shippers pay extra to send dangerous materials by private courier, but spokesman Jesse Bunn declined to say how much of a surcharge is added or how frequently dangerous materials turn up missing. 

The journey of AEA's iridium parcel, which held materials used to detect weaknesses in bridges and structures, started on April 16 from the company's plant. 

The lead cylinder holding the iridium is supposed to be durable enough to resist breakage even if dropped from a four-story building. ''These packages are built better than tanks,'' said William McDaniel, AEA's director of operations. 

But the extra care and handling implied by FedEx's nuclear surcharge did not prevent the parcel from being shipped to England rather than Toluca, Mexico. 

Four days after the delivery date had passed, the company in Mexico called Burlington to say it had received a bill of lading, but no bundle. The call sparked an intense search. 

Federal Express checked its logs and its hazardous materials team scoured hangars and trucks in Boston, Memphis, and Mexico. 

Last Thursday, the NRC held a briefing for senior regional officials on the incident, according to records. By Friday, those tracking the parcel had determined that it definitely left Boston. 

But until 6:19 a.m. yesterday, when someone found the package in tiny Stansted Airport outside London, no one knew where it was. 

This story ran on the front page of the Boston Globe on 04/27/99. 

Tuesday April 27 11:04 AM ET 

Iridium Shipment Disappears Briefly 

BOSTON (AP) - A lead container with a radioactive material strong enough to kill anyone who opened the armored package was found in England 10 days after it was supposed to have been shipped to Mexico. 

The container, which was found unopened, held a relatively small amount of a radioactive isotope of the metal iridium, used to X-ray pipeline welds and aircraft parts as well as in treatment of cancer tumors. 

The package was shipped via Federal Express on April 16 by AEA Technology QSA of Burlington and addressed to a construction company in Toluca, Mexico, according to Federal Express and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. 

Its disappearance touched off a frantic search and an NRC special alert, until it turned up Monday at Stansted Airport outside London. 

Because of the isotope's high radioactivity, unprotected exposure for more than 10 or 15 minutes could cause a quick death, NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said today. 

He likened the possible physical effects to ``thousands and thousands of X-rays.'' 

Sheehan said the bulk of the package was made up of protective materials and a security system, and the iridium made up a relatively small part of the total weight. He said he didn't know how much the iridium weighed. 

The cylinder containing the iridium was designed to resist breaking even in a 40-foot drop. 

``These packages are built better than tanks,'' William McDaniel, AEA director of operations, told The Boston Globe. 

The NRC said that nationally, packages of nuclear materials are misplaced about once a year. 

Federal Express said only 0.5 percent of material it ships is radioactive. 

Sheehan said the NRC was satisfied that the iridium package has been safely recovered, but said the Department of Transportation is expected to investigate. 


Radioactive Train Gets Side-tracked

From NRC daily report 1/27/96 [IMAGE]

At 19:25 EST, Conrail in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey, notified the Pennsylvania department of environmental protection in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, of a transportation event involving an open door on a shipping container in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

A shipment of used stainless steel turbine diaphragms was being transported from the Montecello nuclear plant located near Minneapolis, MN, to Alleron in Koppel, Pa. the door of one of two 20-foot long c-vans containing these diaphragms was found to be open in the Conrail rail yard in Allentown, Pa. the c-van containers were located on a rail car, and they each contained approximately 40,000 pounds of used stainless steel turbine diaphragms with low level surface contamination (several thousand dpm/100 cm^2 smearable, or approximately 1 mrem/hr) (class-7 2913-placard material). The highest dose rate on contact with the c-van was 0.8 mrem/hr. each diaphragm was wrapped in plastic, and there was no obvious damage to the wrapping. a licensee representative stated that there was no exposure danger if the plastic wrapping was not breached. The right door (looking from the rear) was found to be open approximately 3 feet, and the wood locking and bracing was visible inside the container near the door. There were no parts found outside of the container, and the door was believed to have opened due to shifting of the contents against the door at the Allentown rail yard. A Montecello representative stated that the event was identified at approximately 1630 CST.

There is some confusion regarding the shipping papers and how the rail car in question arrived in Allentown, Pa. The Pa. Department of Environmental Protection reported that shipment entered the Conrail system on January 19, 1997, and was mistakenly transported to the Maher terminal located in dockside, NJ. the error was discovered, and the shipment was forwarded to Koppel, Pa. However, the information in the Conrail computer indicated that the rail car had been emptied, even though it had never been unloaded.

The rail car has been isolated. Conrail currently has a hazardous materials representative onsite and has contracted react to ensure that the load will be adequately secured prior to any further shipment. The Pa. Department of Environmental Protection has notified the Pa. Emergency Management Agency and has dispatched a representative to the site. A radiation protection supervisor from Montecello has also been dispatched to the rail yard and is expected to arrive tomorrow morning. in addition, Montecello requested Limerick (located near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) to send a health physics representative to the rail yard to help assess the status. The Limerick representative is expected to arrive at the rail yard by 2230 tonight and plans to report the status of the shipment to Montecello. Montecello plans to inform the NRC of this status when the report from limerick has been received.

Radioactive Lighting for Sale 

from NRC Daily Event Report on 2/18/97



The North Carolina division of radiation control was notified by the nuclear regulatory commission that a store in Fayetteville, North Carolina was selling tritium lighting devices.

Further investigation by the NC division of radiation control disclosed that an army surplus store was selling tritium lighting devices (torches, personnel illuminators, and map readers) to military personnel as instructed wrongfully by another company which has an NRC license. 

On 1/05/89, that company distributed 30 devices (40 sources) and on 05/07/91 they distributed another 24 devices (24 sources). The two shipments totaled 64 sources of tritium measuring 136.9 curies. The store had only 22 sources remaining in stock (46.65 curies of tritium) and they have been shipped back to the licensee. The other 42 sources (90.35 curies) were sold without any records being made of the sale. The state has not yet determined what type of action it will take. 

Texas Theft Incident Irradiates Many

Scrap yards and refuse dumps should be required to have radiation monitors. The cost is only $800 per alarm but many facilities balk at the price. However, having the ability to monitor incoming scrap metal or refuse doesn’t guarantee that radioactive materials won’t get through the gates. A sealed source can go undetected and pose little threat to the public health and safety until it is opened accidentally or on purpose. 

An undetected radioactive source in a load of scrap metal is often resold from one dealer to the next. The 1996 Houston Texas incident is a classic example of dishonesty and irresponsibility. It also demonstrate the lack of ability to detect, identify and take protective action.

from Nuclear Regulatory Commission briefing SECY-96-221


On February 27, 1996, two cobalt-60 cameras and an iridium-192 camera were stolen from a location in Houston, Texas. The company is in bankruptcy and the sources had been impounded in place by the Texas Department of Health, Bureau of Radiation Control (BRC). The Ir-192 had decayed to minimal activity. The Cobalt-60 cameras, one large (1665 lbs), and one small (631 lbs), contained 35.3 Curie and 8.6 Curie of Co-60 respectively.

The following chronology of events occurred after the devices were stolen.



February 27, 1996 -- The three individuals who stole the cameras stripped the cameras of their caution radiation labels and took the cameras to a scrap metal dealer (A) where they were sold as scrap. The dealer sold the small Co-60 camera to a second dealer (B) the same day.

February 28, 1996 Dealer A sold the large Co-60 camera to Dealer B. The Ir-192 camera remained at Dealer A. Dealer B determined the cameras were not stainless steel.

February 29, 1996 -- Dealer B shipped both Co-60 cameras to a third scrap dealer (C) in a large load of scrap. Dealer C has radiation detectors at their plant entry and detected the radiation from the cameras. The manager of dealer C and his two assistants were not at the site when the cameras arrived. A trainee was on duty when the cameras arrived. They segregated the cameras from the rest of the scrap shipment and returned the cameras to dealer B informing them that the cameras contained radioactive materials.

The large camera's lock box, holding the pigtail and the 35.3 curie Co-60 source, was torn loose by a forklift as it was being loaded onto a pallet for loading onto a truck at dealer B for return to dealer A on the afternoon of the 29th. The lockbox, with pigtail and source, was loaded on to the pallet with one of the forks of the forklift. The exposed radioactive source and lock box remained on the pallet with the cameras.

Dealer B attempted to return the cameras to dealer A on the afternoon of February 29th, but the site had closed for the day. The manager of dealer A showed up and the dealer B driver informed him that the cameras were radioactive and that dealer B was returning the cameras. The dealer B driver returned to his facility and parked the truck containing the cameras and the exposed source in a remote area of the scrap yard.

March 1, 1996 -- Dealer B returned the cameras to dealer A. While unloading the cameras from the truck, the lock box and source fell through the pallet and remained on the truck. It was then picked up by the driver, at the source capsule, and thrown to the side after the cameras were unloaded. It was then kicked under the corner of the office building located at dealer A. by an employee. Neither individual was aware that what they were handling and kicking around was an unshielded source.

The owner of dealer A was told that the cameras were radioactive. He then sold the large camera, without the source inside, to another scrap yard (D) and sold the small camera, with the source inside and shielded, to a fifth scrap dealer (E) without advising anyone that the cameras contained radioactive materials. Dealer E in turn sold the small camera to another recycling Co. (F). The manager was unaware that the Co-60 source was on the ground at his scrap yard. The BRC was never notified by any of these companies that they were in possession of radioactive sources.

March 5, 1996 -- The 1.3 TBq (35.3 Ci) Co-60 source remained unshielded at dealer A until March 5, 1996, where it was located by BRC Health Physicists at 1:30 pm. The scrap yard was evacuated and secured and the source was recovered and secured later that evening. Eleven adults and two children were exposed to high levels of radiation at the scrap yard and one adult from dealer B was exposed when he transported and handled the camera and source. Five Houston Police Officers were exposed to low radiation levels when they conducted interviews at dealer A. Dose assessment of the incident are included in Table H.1.


Scrap Yard Owner 18 rem
Scrap Yard Manager 53 rem
Scrap Yard Manager's Wife 55 rem
Two Children at Scrap Yard 39 rem
Workers at Scrap Yard 15 rem
Customers at Scrap Yard 0.16 rem
A Scrap Yard Worker -- wholebody .5 rem -- extremity 2500/3000 rem
Police Officers .5 rem 

In this case, BRC was notified by the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission, which was working at the site of the bankrupt company, that the door from the building where the devices were stored was removed. Upon investigation, BRC determined that the three devices had been removed. On March 4, 1996, BRC issued a news release that was highly publicized by the local media. This assisted in BRC eventually locating the devices.

Another incident in Illinois was discovered when a scrap dealer purchased a radiation detection instrument and found a radioactive source buried on the site. The source was discovered in backfill used to re-grade the site. Excavation of the area by an incident response team recovered the source. It was determined to be cesium-137 with an activity of approximately 370 mCi). Exposure rates were calculated to be 145 mrem/hr at 0.91 m (3 ft). There is no way of knowing how long the source had been on the site or whether it may have been exposing workers and other individuals prior to being discovered. The two incidents described above illustrate the mechanisms and potential harm that could occur to scrap workers and other members of the public. These sources could have caused serious exposure if located near individuals.




Potentially harmful nuclear tool stolen

Item was taken from company near Lancaster

By Garry Lenton
OF THE PATRIOT-NEWS August 25, 1998

In what seems like a case for Mulder and Scully of the "X-files,"police and nuclear regulatory officials are investigating the theft of a nuclear device stolen from a Lancaster County asphalt company Friday.

Missing is a Troxler Gauge, a 70 pound tool used to measure the density of asphalt.

It was taken from a locked storage shed at the McMinn’s Asphalt Co. in East Hempfield Twp., just north of Lancaster.

Though relatively harmless, the gauge could pose a health threat to the unwary if the stainless steel capsule containing Its 8-millicurie, cesium-137 power source were broken, said Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

"It's not a tremendous amount of radioactive materials, but this type of material should not be out. In the public domain without restrictions," he said. "That's why we're concerned that this gauge has disappeared."

Exposure to the unshielded cesium could be a health threat, Sheehan said.

The NRC regulates nuclear materials used in industry. Companies that use the devices must meet specific guidelines for storage. Employees who operate the gauges must be licensed.

The theft was discovered around 7 p.m. Friday by a McMinn employee, said Dennis Martin, a lab technician for the company.

The thieves removed the storage-shed door from its hinges to get to the device.

It was the only item missing from the shed, Martin said.

He said he is puzzled by the theft. The tool, which looks like a yellow box about 2 feet long and 6 inches square, with a handle attached, has a limited use.

"They're not going to take it to a flea market and sell it," he said.

Sheehan said Troxler gauges are frequently reported stolen and later returned. NRC officials are hoping that happens here.

"What's curious about this case is that there was another gauge in the storage facility, and they only took one," Sheehan said, "Which could lead you to believe that whoever took it didn't know what they were taking." 

Scott Portzline, a member of the anti-nuclear group Three Mile Island Alert, said nuclear devices like the gauge disappear frequently.

"My research shows that nuclear material like this is lost, stolen or found every other day," he said. 

Portzline, who tracks nuclear theft reports via the Internet, said he believes there is a black market for the gauges. 

"It's a gut feeling, but I've seen some reports of three or four of them stolen from different businesses at the same time, as if some body is buying these all of a sudden. 

The gauges cost about $7,500 to $10,000. 

Florida March 13, 1999

A five-thousand dollar reward is being offered to anyone who leads police to a radioactive Gamma Ray Projector. The stolen device contains potentially deadly iridium and the thief may NOT know it. Direct exposure to the pill-sized iridium inside can lead to radiation sickness, severe burns and even death. So far, Pembroke Pines police have received calls from people in Hialeah and Davie who thought they saw the radioactive device in a trash dumpster... but both were false alarms. The device is used to detect stress fractures in metal and pavement. 

Failure to Regulate

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has only now (11/13/96) decided to address lost sources even though they have discussed it internally since 1984 and have known about the problem in the mid 1950's as the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). The AEC created a general licensing system in 1959. General licensee are not subject to audits, inspections or even inventorying their radioactive sources with a state or federal agency such as the NRC. This system was intentionally designed to avoid the cost and man-hours by the Atomic Energy Commission for keeping track of all of these sources. There may now be up to 9000 orphaned licensed nuclear devices in the United States. 

In 1984, the NRC did a sampling of general
licensees to determine the care and control of 
the sources in their possession.






80% were unaware they were even in possession of a licensed device.

80% of the licensees were not aware of regulatory requirements.

30% could not account for at least one of their devices.

36 of the approximately 1000 devices could not be accounted for.


The Incentive to "Dump" is Too Great

Far too often licensed sources (i.e. gauges, glow in the dark exit signs, special cameras) are illegally dumped to avoid paying the disposal expenses. Because the fine for illegal dumping is only $2000 and proper disposal can cost up to $20,000, the incentive is to simply "dump." If a radioactive source ends up smelted at a steel mill, the cost of cleanup cost can soar to as much as $100 million. 





No Volunteers

from the April 29, 1998 Federal Register

Survey of Steel Mills: Support of a Risk Assessment of Generally and Specifically Licensed Devices

AGENCY: Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

ACTION: Survey of Steel Mills: Withdrawal.

SUMMARY: On August 14, 1997, (62 FR 43556) NRC announced its intentions to conduct a survey of the steel industry for obtaining data tailored to a risk analysis. The survey would have provided empirical data about discoveries of radioactive material in the recycling stream. A risk analysis would use this information as the basis to systematically evaluate the effectiveness of current regulation and possible regulatory changes. The analysis supports regulatory changes toward improving the control of radioactive devices commonly used in many industries.

The NRC received three letters from trade associations and a steel mill. All of these letters indicated that their organizations would not support the survey. Because participation in the survey would be voluntary and the letters were negative, the response rate for the survey would likely be low , resulting in insufficient data for a risk analysis as originally planned. Therefore, the NRC has decided not to conduct the survey. 

NRC is continuing the risk analysis with appropriate adjustments to accommodate for the lack of data available without the survey. The NRC will re-evaluate the need for the survey after the risk analysis is completed. If the NRC decides to conduct the survey at a later date, the survey will be announced in the Federal Register.



Steel mills and scrap yards are not required
to monitor for radioactive materials.


There may be as many as 50,000 missing sources.

Based on data from the 1984 NRC survey and extrapolating to a total of 2 million sources -- accounts for sourced regulated by agreement states. This does not count military sources. Opinion of Scott D. Portzline