Border Security: Investigators Transported Radioactive Sources Across Our Nation's Borders at Two Locations Page: 4 of 12
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the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on the results of our
undercover border crossing tests.'
We selected two land ports of entry that had radiation portal monitors
installed: one at the U.S.-Canadian border and one at the U.S.-Mexican
border. Radiation portal monitors are large pieces of stationary equipment
that CBP uses as part of its overall strategy to thwart radiological
terrorism by detecting the presence of radioactive sources by screening
people, vehicles, and cargo as they pass through ports of entry. In order to
safely plan and execute our undercover operation, several of our
investigators attended training at the National Institute of Standards and
Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Our investigators received
training on the safe handling, storage, and transport of radioactive
When considering the type of radioactive sources to use in our undercover
operation, we decided to use one of the most common radioisotopes used
in industry for its strong radioactivity and also used in medical therapy to
treat cancer. After consulting with an outside expert, we used an amount
of radioactive sources that we determined was sufficient to manufacture a
dirty bomb.2 A dirty bomb would most likely result in small radiation
exposures and would typically not contain enough radiation to kill people
or cause severe illnesses. However, by scattering the radioactive material,
the dirty bomb has the effect of contaminating an area. The extent of local
contamination depends on several factors, including the size of the
explosive, the amount and type of radioactive material used, and weather
conditions. While there could be an increase in the cancer risk among
those exposed to radiation from a dirty bomb, the more significant effect
of a dirty bomb could be the closing of contaminated areas. The direct
costs of cleanup and the indirect losses in trade and business in the
contaminated areas could be large. Hence, dirty bombs are generally
considered to be weapons of mass disruption instead of weapons of mass
'GAO, Border Security: Investigators Successfully Transported Radioactive Sources
Across Our Nation's Borders at Selected Locations, GAO-06-545R (Washington, D.C.: Mar.
2According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a dirty bomb is a mix of
explosives, such as dynamite, with radioactive powder or pellets. When the dynamite or
other explosives are set off, the blast carries radioactive material into the surrounding area.
GAO-06-939T Border Security
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United States. Government Accountability Office. Border Security: Investigators Transported Radioactive Sources Across Our Nation's Borders at Two Locations, text, July 5, 2006; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc290994/m1/4/: accessed February 16, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.