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Mexico's Stolen Radiation Truck: It Could Happen In the US 105

Posted by timothy
from the every-moral-panic-is-the-very-worst-one dept.
Lasrick writes "Tom Bielefeld, a physicist specializing in nuclear security, writes a detailed article that has some surprising revelations about nuclear security in the U.S. (and elsewhere). Although some security measures have been tightened since 9/11, the US does not require transports of category-1 to be protected by armed guards, and individual states don't have to provide lists of 'safe havens' to the transport company (and they often don't). And at hospitals and other buildings that house radioactive materials and devices, 'security conditions remain hair-raising, even when these facilities have been checked by inspectors.'"
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Mexico's Stolen Radiation Truck: It Could Happen In the US

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  • by Etherwalk (681268) on Saturday January 25, 2014 @10:32AM (#46066131)

    radioactive gold kept disappearing. After a while a staff member's wife or fiance turned up and had radiation poisoning to her hand--someone was taking the gold to make a wedding ring, and didn't know it was radioactive.

    I'm sure security is a little better than it was then, but small amounts of radioactive material will probably always be gettable.

  • NIMBY (Score:5, Informative)

    by Runaway1956 (1322357) on Saturday January 25, 2014 @10:34AM (#46066141) Homepage Journal

    No way. Couldn't happen here! Not in a million years. Someone is smoking some really strange shit to think we could just lose some radioactive material here in the US of A.

    Oh - wait. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2... [wikipedia.org]

    • Re:NIMBY (Score:5, Informative)

      by Ellis D. Tripp (755736) on Saturday January 25, 2014 @11:09AM (#46066273) Homepage

      Well, sure, our totally incompetent government workers could lose track of nuclear materials, but if we simply entrust this stuff to private corporations, all our problems will go away.

      Oh, wait....

      http://stateimpact.npr.org/tex... [npr.org]

      • by stenvar (2789879)

        Those aren't "nuclear materials"; nuclear materials are materials related to atomic weapons.

        All they did was lose a piece of "radioactive material". Dangerous, to be sure, but no more so than many industrial chemicals. There is no reason for the government to track radioactive materials.

        Referring to radioactive materials as nuclear materials is scare mongering and FUD. Shame on you.

        • They specifically include "byproduct materials" in their definition (along with "source materials" and "special nuclear materials", the weapons grade stuff you refer to), which includes just about every radioisotope with commercial or medical applications...

          http://www.nrc.gov/materials.h... [nrc.gov]

          • by stenvar (2789879)

            Not that I would put it past the NRC to attempt to redefine the meaning of the word "nuclear", but you're misreading that. It says: "byproduct material" is "nuclear material (other than special nuclear material) that is produced or made radioactive in a nuclear reactor". It doesn't say "radioactive material ... produced".

            No matter what NRC pages say, the fact remains, the term "nuclear" does not refer to all radioactive materials:

            http://dictionary.reference.co... [reference.com]

          • by stenvar (2789879)

            Incidentally, Cobalt-60 is often produced without a nuclear reactor.

    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

      Shocking as cock-ups like that are I don't think we need to worry about terrorists getting hold of nuclear material. It's just not a credible threat, they don't have the expertise to build dirty bombs with it and are not really interested in doing so anyway.

      Time and time again we see how dumb terrorists are, going after extremely difficult targets like aircraft and failing, when there are much easier options available to them. It's easy for us to imagine lots of ways that people could harm us, but movie plo

      • Time and time again we see how dumb terrorists are, going after extremely difficult targets like aircraft and failing, when there are much easier options available to them. It's easy for us to imagine lots of ways that people could harm us, but movie plot threats are not worth worrying about.

        Exactly what makes us here in the US look so retarded in attacking our own rights and freedoms in the interest of snake oil security, and making such a big deal over all this.

      • by sjames (1099)

        The media does a great job glossing over a fundamental problem with dirty bombs. You have to shield it well enough to get it to it's deployment before it kills you, but it then has to disperse it's contents widely to be even vaguely effective.

        The shielding also has to protect the detonator so it still works by the time it's supposed to go off.

        As we have seen, a truck full of ANFO is fairly easy to come up with and sends a rather loud message without radiation.

        • by Carnildo (712617)

          The media does a great job glossing over a fundamental problem with dirty bombs. You have to shield it well enough to get it to it's deployment before it kills you, but it then has to disperse it's contents widely to be even vaguely effective.

          A dirty bomb isn't about killing people, it's about scaring people. A pipe bomb will blow out a few windows and maybe kill someone who was unlucky enough to be standing next to it when it went off. A pipe bomb mixed with the guts of a hundred smoke detectors won't be

          • by sjames (1099)

            Assuming it doesn't get the terrorists caught first from the rediation signature, and it doesn't kill them before they can place the device, it will take a hell of a lot more than a pipe bomb to burst the Shielding and scatter the Americium. Of course, each smoke detector contains only a quarter microgram, so it's going to take a great many to even have a detectable effect.

            IOt would have even less effect if not for the Chicken Littles in D.C.

      • movie plot threats are not worth worrying about.

        As opposed to, "movie theater threats" like Batmans and ex-cops. Who needs terrorists when USA is already well-supplied with local wackos?

  • FEAR! (Score:4, Funny)

    by aesiamun (862627) on Saturday January 25, 2014 @10:43AM (#46066169) Homepage Journal

    Control the populous with fear! Let's figure out a way to make them even more afraid of nuclear power so we can continue selling snakeoil solutions like solar and wind energy products.

    • by brambus (3457531)
      The saddest thing is that this will be sold to the public under the "NUCLEAR POWER BE DANGEROUS!" banner, completely ignoring the fact that this was a radiological source for nuclear medicine - opposing that is in essence saying that you want more people with cancer to die.
    • Re:FEAR! (Score:5, Informative)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Saturday January 25, 2014 @11:24AM (#46066341) Journal
      Aside from the (rare, mostly found in spacecraft or from the golden age of 'soviets + radioisotopes = even crazier party than americans + radioisotopes') radiothermal generators, the sealed sources of the type being fretted about are pretty much entirely unrelated to nuclear power generation...

      There is periodic fretting about security at nuclear generating facilities; but those are relatively scarce, relatively centralized, and, while they do deal in pretty large amounts of radioactive material compared to most other users, need stuff shipped hither and yon only infrequently.

      The industrial, scientific, and medical emitters are comparatively puny; but there are lots and lots of them, scattered all over the place, and relatively frequently shipped around.

      Essentially unrelated applications with only minimal overlap in risk.
    • by IAN (30)

      Control the populous with fear! Let's figure out a way to make them even more afraid of nuclear power so we can continue selling snakeoil solutions like solar and wind energy products.

      The "populous" (ObGrammarNazi: it's "populace" in this case), as represented by the thieves of those radiation sources, has already demonstrated how informed and afraid it is: not much. How you can equate medical/industrial isotope capsules with nuclear power generation is another question. (Hint: you really can't, but it's so difficult to pass an opportunity for trolling, right?)

      • How you can equate medical/industrial isotope capsules with nuclear power generation is another question. (Hint: you really can't, but it's so difficult to pass an opportunity for trolling, right?)

        But the people who want to frighten the general public away from nuclear power just need to get "unsafe" and "nuclear" together in the same headline.

        Your average layman isn't going to make the distinction between nuclear power plants and radioisotopes used in medicine when he sees that "unsafe" and "nuclear" tog

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Interesting, but I believe too specialized. Fear is sold to the public so that protection can be offered later. This is normal Hegelian dialectic which has been used here to make people fear pretty much everything. A few months ago a SC politician claimed that SC could be the target of a dirty nuke, Bush gave the same rhetoric about Iraq.

          In other words, it's just "fear" being pushed and not "fear of nuclear power" or "fear of this thing" or "fear of those people". Just "fear" so that the growing police

        • Actually "medical" and "nuclear" in the same headline seems to be much more frightening to me, add "Obamacare", and it becomes terrifying. Besides, uranium, radon, the daughters of radon must me completely safe for human consumption, "radioactive" can't be such a big deal or they wouldn't have well water naturally carbonated with it in Tahoe.

    • by Dunbal (464142) *
      The sun as an energy source. Who would have believed such bunk! Yep, snake oil indeed!
      • by aesiamun (862627)

        Inefficient, expensive products that are not going to be subsidized forever...It is not the future.

        We cannot live off of solar alone. It is a good companion, but 100% solar is a dream. Nuclear is proven and newer technologies are safe. The energy consortium does not want people using nuclear because it makes them irrelevant with backyard nukes being actively researched and developed today. Let's sell the concept that it's dangerous...that's why we're seeing nuclear 'fallout' in California from Fukushima

        • by Narcocide (102829)

          We cannot live off of solar alone. It is a good companion, but 100% solar is a dream

          You're not very good at math, are you? For your reference just the amount of solar energy absorbed by the earth in an hour [wikipedia.org] dwarves the amount of energy used by the human race in an entire year by four whole orders of magnitude. We could *never* produce this much energy here on Earth ourselves with any concievable current or future nuclear technology advances. So, just to be clear, additionally (please forgive me for also assuming you're not very knowledgable about physics either) the Sun is in fact also,

          • by Bob_Who (926234)

            It is merely a side-effect of these aforementioned industries having been so profitable thus far that solar currently looks like a cheap toy.

            YES!

  • Crime! It could happen in the US.
  • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Saturday January 25, 2014 @11:01AM (#46066237)

    Don't worry. The TSA has this all under control. They are now requiring the drivers of these transports to take their shoes off when they get into the cab. So, problem solved!

    • by Anonymous Coward

      They will also ensure the drivers only carry 100 ml of fluids. The won't get far on 100 ml of gas.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Sheese. The Threat of the Month club. Every hospital in the world has mildly radioactive material. Even bananas are slightly radioactive. Even worse, many homes contain highly explosive natural gas. Even more worser, we are all being poisoned by bread containing gluten. Get a grip.

    • by Dunbal (464142) *
      There's nothing wrong with gluten, unless you happen to be allergic to it. Then your life becomes hell. But the gluten itself is not "evil".
      • by Narcocide (102829)

        Well, its also fattening to the point that eating the "3-2-4-4 way" puts many people at high risk for type-2 diabetes, so your mileage may vary on the "not evil" part.

    • by PPH (736903)

      The cited incident wasn't theft of "mildly radioactive material". It involved a Cobalt-60 shielded radiation source used for cancer therapy. Exposure to the unshielded source for hours or a few days could result in radiation sickness and death.

      • Did the guys who stole the truck and opened the container ever turn up in a hospital?

        • by PPH (736903)

          According to this [nytimes.com], they were arrested and taken to a hospital with one individual showing signs of possible rad. poisoning.

      • by jonbryce (703250)

        And while not every hospital does cancer treatment, a lot of them do, certainly all the bigger ones unless they specialise in something else.

  • by koan (80826)

    With the billions poured into "security" I'm left with the assumption that this is done on purpose, how else do you explain such a glaring error:?

    • With the billions poured into "security"...

      Security is for the little people. Corporations, small, medium, and large? Not so much.

      • by sjames (1099)

        Small, not so much. It's the large internationals that get a pass. Medium may get some slack mostly from local government.

    • by cusco (717999)

      how else do you explain such a glaring error:?

      Just another symptom of the 'MBA Disease', where people too stupid or lazy to do any real work make decisions on public safety based on how it will effect the stock price and their next quarterly bonus.

  • Now that is a real priority for government.

  • the US does not require transports of category-1 to be protected by armed guards,

    What is to guarantee that having an armed guard is going to protect the load in transit? A bottom-dollar gun-toting guard given a choice between getting shot for his minimum-wage job and saying "take it" ... isn't going to take a bullet.

    That's if he (or she) isn't in the pisser when the truck is stolen.

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