On October 18, 2016, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued a Staff Requirements Memorandum (SRM) regarding a proposed agency staff re-evaluation of Category 3 source accountability.
The SRM was issued in response to a July 29, 2016 memo from NRC Commissioner Baran proposing that NRC staff revisit the question of whether and how to track Category 3 sources. Commissioner Baran’s memo was written in response to GAO-16-330 titled, “Nuclear Security: NRC Has Enhanced the Controls of Dangerous Radioactive Materials, but Vulnerabilities Remain.”
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, which was issued on July 15, 2016, concludes that NRC and Agreement States have taken several steps to help ensure that radioactive materials licenses are granted only to legitimate organizations and that licensees can only obtain such materials in quantities allowed by their licenses. However, GAO also determined that NRC and Agreement States have not taken some measures for better controlling Category 3 quantities of radioactive material—such as tracking and agency license verification—that leave vulnerabilities.
The SRM directs NRC staff to submit a notation vote paper to the Commission that includes the following:
- an evaluation of the pros and cons of different methods of requiring transferors of Category 3 sources to verify the validity of a transferee’s license prior to transfer;
- an evaluation of the pros and cons of including Category 3 sources in the National Source Tracking System (NSTS);
- an assessment, based on these evaluations, of these and any additional options that the staff identifies for addressing the source accountability recommendations made by the Government Accountability Office (GAO);
- a vulnerability assessment which identifies changes in the threat environment between 2009 and today that argue in favor of or against expansion of the NSTS to include Category 3 sources;
- a regulatory impact analysis of the accrued benefit and costs of the change, to include impacts to the NRC, Agreement States, non-Agreement States, and regulated entities;
- a discussion of potential regulatory actions that would not require changes to NRC regulations that arose from or were considered by the staff working groups—including changes to guidance, training, and other program improvements such as more closely monitoring the implementation of the staff recommendations using the Integrated Materials Performance Evaluation Program (IMPEP) process; and,
- any other factors arising from the staff’s currently ongoing assessment that the staff concludes would bear on the Commission’s deliberation on the proposed change.
The SRM states that the NRC staff’s evaluations for the notation vote paper “should begin after completion of the ongoing broader evaluation of the overall source protection and accountability strategy for sources due to the Congress at the end of this year.”
It further states that the results of the assessment of the security requirements in 10 CFR Part 37 should be used to inform the NRC staff’s evaluation and that, in conducting these evaluations, the staff “should assess the risks posed by the aggregation of Category 3 sources into Category 2 quantities and consider the current views of our Agreement States partners.”
The staff’s evaluation and notation vote paper are due to the Commission within 10 months of the issuance of the SRM.
July 2016 Memo from Commissioner Baran In the July 2016 memo, Commissioner Baran asserts that the case for tracking Category 3 sources “is even stronger today than it was seven years ago.”
Baran’s July 2016 memo concludes with the following proposed staff direction:
In light of [the Government Accountability Office’s] GAO’s findings and the years of operating experience with the [National Source Tracking System] NSTS, I propose that the NRC staff take a fresh look at the question of whether and how to track Category 3 sources. This re-evaluation can build on the efforts of the working groups established in response to the GAO investigation. I propose that, within six months of the Staff Requirements Memorandum resulting from this paper, the staff should submit a notation vote paper to the Commission that includes the following:
1) An evaluation of the pros and cons of different methods of requiring transferors of Category 3 sources to verify the validity of a transferee’s license prior to the transfer; 2) An evaluation of the pros and cons of including Category 3 sources in the NSTS; and
3) Based on these evaluations, options for addressing the GAO recommendations.
In conducting these evaluations, the staff should assess the risks posed by the aggregation of Category 3 sources into Category 2 quantities and consider the current views of our Agreement States partners.
GAO Audit Report In preparing GAO-16-330, GAO staff reviewed relevant guidance documents, regulations, and analyses of orders; interviewed NRC and state officials; and, used covert investigative techniques. Specifically, GAO established fictitious businesses and applied for radioactive materials licenses in three states—two Agreement States and one NRC state—for a license to possess a Category 3 source only slightly below the threshold for Category 2.
GAO’s covert testing of NRC requirements showed them to be effective in two out of three cases. In the third case, however, GAO was able to obtain a license. GAO altered the license and secured commitments from two companies to purchase—by accumulating multiple Category 3 quantities of materials—a Category 2 quantity of a radioactive material considered attractive for use in a dirty bomb.
GAO-16-330 recommends that NRC take the following three actions:
- take the steps needed to include Category 3 sources in the NSTS and add Agreement State Category 3 licenses to the WBL as quickly as reasonably possible;
- at least until such time that Category 3 licenses can be verified using the LVS, require that transferors of Category 3 quantities of radioactive materials confirm the validity of a would-be purchaser’s radioactive materials license with the appropriate regulatory authority before transferring any Category 3 quantities of licensed materials; and,
- as part of the ongoing efforts of NRC working groups meeting to develop enhancements to the pre-licensing requirements for Category 3 licenses, consider requiring that an on-site security review be conducted for all unknown applicants of Category 3 licenses to verify that each applicant is prepared to implement the required security measures before taking possession of licensed radioactive materials.
For additional information and direct links to NRC’s October 2016 SRM, Commissioner Baran’s July 2016 memorandum and GAO-16-330, please visit the Resources Page of the Disused Sources Working Group (DSWG) web site at www.disusedsources.org.