Security for Radiological Sources


Preventing Nuclear Terrorism: Continuous Improvement or Dangerous Decline?
March 2016 | Report
Project on Managing the Atom, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
By Matthew Bunn, Martin Malin, William Tobey, and Nickolas Roth

This report provides a global assessment of nuclear security. Significant progress has been made securing vulnerable nuclear weapons-usable material—reducing the number of countries with these materials by more than half, securing scores of sites around the world, and much more. But the work is not done. There are new threats, and global attention to nuclear security may be waning. (click here to view)

Radiological Security Progress Report
March 2016 | Report
Nuclear Threat Initiative
By Andrew J. Bieniawski, Ioanna Iliopulos, and Michelle Nalabandian

This report finds that the vulnerability of these radiological sources, such as cesium-137 and cobalt-60, has caused concern for years, but today the risk is growing. To address these concerns, governments and the private sector must work in tandem to raise awareness about the threat, develop a more effective system for securing radiological sources, and replace the use of dangerous isotopes with alternate technologies, where feasible, for permanent threat reduction.

Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors
January 2016 | Report
U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

Following a report on the same topic in 2009, this Congressionally mandated report recaps progress made, identifies opportunities for improvement, and recommends next steps in continuing to reduce the use of HEU for research and medical purposes. It analyzes both domestic and global efforts.

2016 Nuclear Security Index
2016 | Online resource
Nuclear Threat Initiative

The NTI Nuclear Security Index provides a quantitative assessment of the overall nuclear materials security conditions in a country by looking at openly available information on indicators in different categories relevant to the risk of theft. The 2016 version includes a new section on how vulnerable nuclear facilities are to sabotage and cyber attacks.

Permanent Risk Reduction: A Roadmap for Replacing High-Risk Radioactive Sources and Materials
July 2015 | Paper
Center for Nonproliferation Studies
By George M. Moore and Miles A. Pomper

Given the increased interest in the alternative replacements, the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey hosted three workshops (in Washington, London, and Vienna) and completed two studies examining the issue. Information from these workshops has been used to develop this document, a potential roadmap of actions to substitute nonisotopic alternatives for high-risk radiological sources.


Advancing Nuclear Security: Evaluating Progress and Setting New Goals
March 2014 | Report
Harvard Kennedy School | Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
By Matthew Bunn, Martin B. Malin, Nickolas Roth, and William H. Tobey

"In the lead-up to the nuclear security summit in The Hague, Advancing Nuclear Security: Evaluating Progress and Setting New Goals outlines what was accomplished in a four-year effort launched in 2009 to secure nuclear material around the globe—and what remains to be done....The authors conclude that “all countries with nuclear weapons, separated plutonium, or highly enriched uranium (HEU) on their soil have more to do to ensure these items are effectively and lastingly secured.”  (click here to view)

Best Practice Guides on Security of Radioactive Sources
December 2012 | Best Practice Guide Series
World Institute for Nuclear Security (WINS)

"The use of radioactive sources to inspect materials for hidden flaws is a valuable commercial assessment tool. Thousands of these sources are in use at any time all over the world. We know that the loss and theft of these high activity sources are a fairly common occurrence. If they are used maliciously, they have the potential to significantly harm individuals and the environment….WINS International Best Practice Guide explains how your organisation can help to reduce the risk of theft of your industrial radiography sources and enhance their security worldwide.” 

WINS Best Practice Guides are available to WINS members only (registration is free). The Best Practice Guides on Security of Radioactive Sources includes publications on:

  • Security of Industrial Radiography Sources
  • Security of High Activity Radioactive Sources
  • Security of Well Logging Radioactive Sources

Mexico's Stolen Radiation Source: It Could Happen Here
January 2014 | Analysis
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
By Tom Bielefeld

Although the truck-jacking of highly radioactive material outside Mexico City on December 1, 2013 ended without the worst case materializing, it should serve as a wakeup call, not just in Mexico but also in the United States and elsewhere. Dangerous radiation sources remain vulnerable to theft, especially when they are out on the road. There is also poorly protected radioactive material in hospitals and other facilities. Improving security requires tougher regulations and greater risk awareness in the industry. Unfortunately, the United States is no exception, so it’s time for the country to get serious about locking up its radioactive material. (click here to view)

Reducing Nuclear and Radiological Terrorism Threats
July 2007 | Conference Paper
Institute for Nuclear Materials Management
By Matthew Bunn and Tom Bielefeld

"Urgent actions are needed to prevent a nuclear or radiological 9/11.  Terrorists are actively seeking nuclear weapons and Radiological Dispersal Devices (RDDs) and the materials to make them.  There are scores of sites where the essential ingredients of nuclear weapons exist, in dozens of countries worldwide....Many of these sites are not sufficiently secured to defeat the kinds of threats that terrorists and criminals have demonstrated they can pose....This paper describes the nuclear and radiological terrorism threats, analyzes the actions taken so far to address these threats, and recommends further actions going forward." (click here to view)

The Human Dimension of Security for Radioactive Sources
March 2014 | Report
Center for International Trade and Security - University of Georgia | Indonesia's National Nuclear Energy Agency (BATAN)
By Paul Ebel, Arthur Eyzaguirre, Khairul Khairul, Igor Khripunov, Sara Kutchesfahani, Heru Umbara, and Djarot S. Wisnubroto

"This report provides a roadmap for improving security management of radioactive sources with an emphasis on a culture model, including self-assessment tools and a series of indicators as benchmarks to help take a culture’s measure and identify practical ways for enhancement. The purpose of assessment is to provide a clear picture of the influence of the human factor on security-related functional areas at the level of the organization." (click here to view)

Nuclear Regulatory Commission 10 C.F.R 37, A New Rule to Protect Radioactive Material: Background, Summary, Views from the Field
December 2012 | Report
Congressional Research Service 
By Jonathan Medalia

This CRS report investigates the impacts of NRC rule 10 C.F.R 37. This rule is intended to regulate physical protection of “byproduct material,” specific types of radioactive material not including uranium or plutonium, which could be used in a dirty bomb. The rule increases physical protection during use and transit, and requires background investigations for persons handling significant quantities of this material. The report notes that this rule may prove burdensome for licensees, especially smaller facilities, but it does ensure a layered defense, which should increase overall security. Finally, it observes that there is still room for improvement on security, but deems the cost-benefit analysis a “political judgment.” (click here to view)

Nuclear Nonproliferation: Additional Actions Needed to Improve Security of Radiological Sources at U.S. Medical Facilities
September 2012 | Report
U.S. Government Accountability Office

This GAO report examines the security of radiological material, specifically sources that could be used in a “dirty bomb” such as cesium-137, at hospitals in the United States. The study recommended that the NRC strengthen its security requirements for radiological material, although in response the NRC affirmed its belief that its security is adequate. The study also described NNSA efforts to increase security at hospitals for radiological material, although it noted that at the current rate all security upgrades will not be complete until 2025. The report expressed concern at the amount of vulnerable radiological material in U.S. hospitals, as well as the number of hospitals that require security upgrades, some of which local police departments consider “high risk.” (click here to view

Ensuring the Security of Radioactive Sources: National  and Global Responsibilities
March 2012 | Working Paper
U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS
By Charles Ferguson

"This report provides the basic principles of the science of ionizing radiation and radioactive materials; a risk assessment of the safety and security of these materials… a discussion of various pathways for malicious use of commercial radioactive sources… a description of the many efforts underway to reduce the risk of radiological terrorism and makes recommendations for the inclusion of this issue at the 2012 Seoul Nuclear Security Summit and beyond.” (click here to view)

Further Actions Needed by U.S. Agencies to Secure Vulnerable Nuclear and Radiological Materials
March 2012
U.S. Government Accountability Office 

This GAO report provides an overview and update of President Obama’s 4-year initiative to secure all nuclear material. Drawing heavily from a December 2010 report on the same subject (titled “Nuclear Nonproliferation: Comprehensive U.S. Planning and Better Foreign Cooperation Needed to Secure Vulnerable Nuclear Materials Worldwide”), this report makes no new recommendations, although it does note that the government’s plan, as approved by the NSC, lacks details regarding the cost and scope of the work. It provides an overview of efforts by U.S. agencies to track nuclear material overseas, but also warns of coordination problems between agencies, specifically citing overlap and the fact that no agency takes a formal lead on the issue. (click here to view)

Steps for Public Safety Against a 'Dirty Bomb'
September 2011 | Fact Sheet
Nuclear Energy Institute 

"This fact sheet explains the steps that the government and private sector take to protect our nation from the use of radiological dispersion devices, also called 'dirty bombs.'" (click here to view)

"Dirty Bombs": Technical Background, Attack Prevention and Response, Issues for Congress
June 2011 | Report
Congressional Research Service
By Jonathan Medalia

This report outlines the danger posed by radiological dispersal devices (RDDs), as well as national- and international-level efforts to prevent RDD acquisition by terrorists. The likelihood of an RDD event has decreased due to the work of the NRC, NNSA, and IAEA, and the National Response Framework provides a comprehensive response plan to a domestic RDD incident. CRS also outlines the dilemmas facing congress, such as what weight Congress should give countering RDDs vs other CBRN weapons, if Congress should prioritize securing domestic or international radiological sources, and if cities should establish radiological detection systems. (click here to view)

An Integrated Approach to Nuclear Safety and Nuclear Security
January 2011 | Best Practice Guide
World Institute for Nuclear Security (WINS)

"This WINS International Best Practice Guide explains the factors that will help you provide an integrated approach to nuclear safety and nuclear security in your organisation….Today we understand that an integrated approach to nuclear safety and nuclear security is the best way to protect society and the environment. Without a strong approach to both, all stakeholders (including your organisation’s assets and staff, and those outside your organisation) are likely to be at greater risk from malicious acts."

Assessing Radiological Weapons: Attack Methods and Estimated Effects
Fall 2009 | Journal Article
Defense Against Terrorism Review
By Charles D. Ferguson and Michelle M. Smith

"This article seeks to address technical questions associated with radiological terrorism. It first presents a summary of the commercially available radioactive sources, dispersal methods, and exposure pathways that could be deployed in a radiological attack. It then critically assesses the simulation-driven, open source research that has been done in the past ten years in the United States. The article goes on to note the estimated effects of a radiological attack according to these studies, with an emphasis on the motivations for, lessons derived from, and misconceptions or shortcomings contained in the various attack scenarios.” (click here to view)

Security of Radioactive Sources 
2009 | Implementation Guide
International Atomic Energy Agency

"Based on extensive input from technical and legal experts, this implementation guide sets forth guidance on the security of sources and will serve as a useful tool for legislators and regulators, physical protection specialists, and facility and transport operators, as well as for law enforcement officers." (click here to view

The Security of Medical and Industrial Radioactive Sources
July 2008 | Conference Paper
Institute for Nuclear Materials Management
By Tom Bielefeld

"Recent foiled and successful terrorist plots in Europe and the US... clearly demonstrate that domestic or locally acting terrorist cells have become an important part of the terrorist threat picture. The uncovered “dirty bomb” – plots involved radioactive material of type or quantity that would not have caused much damage...To this end, sources storage and handling as well as daily work procedures in hospitals and companies have been analysed to find weak points which could be discovered and exploited by terrorist groups.... Our study shows that, even in a country with already high regulatory standards, hospitals and industrial facilities still need to introduce improvements to sources security. We therefore discuss and propose a number of affordable security upgrades." (click here to view)

Radiation Source Use and Development
2008 | Book
National Research Council | National Academies Press

"In response to a request from Congress, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission asked the National Research Council to conduct a study to review the uses of high-risk radiation sources and the feasibility of replacing them with lower risk alternatives. The study concludes that the U.S. government should consider factors such as potential economic consequences of misuse of the radiation sources into its assessments of risk." (click here to view)

Dirty Bombs: The Threat Revisited
January 2004 | Journal Article
Defense Horizons
By Peter D. Zimmerman and Cheryl Loeb

"This paper provides a general overview of the nature of RDDs and sources of material for them and estimates the effects of an assault, including casualties and economic consequences. Many experts believe that an RDD is an economic weapon capable of inflicting devastating damage on the United States. This paper is in full agreement with that assessment and makes some quantitative estimates of the magnitude of economic disruption that can be produced by various levels of attack." (click here to view)

Weapons of Mass Disruption
November 2002 | Article
Scientific American
By Michael A. Levi and Henry C. Kelly

"Defending ourselves from the threat of radiological weapons has become a grim necessity. The components and know-how needed to build a dirty bomb are available, and there are fanatics out there who just might do the deed. The arrest earlier this year of Al Qaeda sympathizer José Padilla (Abdullah al Muhajir) on suspicion of plotting to construct and set off a dirty bomb gives an indication of the interest in building such a device." (click here to view)