Under Cover of Night: An Irradiator Moves 2.5 Miles

Victor Dricks
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region IV

On Super Bowl Sunday, while millions of Americans were gathered in front of their television sets, two NRC employees were en route to Anchorage, Alaska, as part of the agency’s mission to ensure the security and safety of irradiators.

Under controlled conditions, large commercial irradiators in the U.S. use gamma rays to kill germs and insects in food products and containers. But the smaller irradiators — about the size of a mini refrigerator — are used in lab settings for sterilizing medical supplies and products. They have their own built-in shielding. Material to be irradiated is placed in a small canister which rotates, exposing the material to radiation. The process leaves no radioactive residue behind, and the devices have been used safely by workers for more than four decades in the United States.

Moving the small irradiator took a big, coordinated effort.
Moving the small irradiator took a big, coordinated effort.

Because all irradiators contain sealed sources of radioactive materials that could be of interest to terrorists wanting to make a “dirty bomb,” the NRC has very rigorous security requirements governing their use.

The NRC team was onsite to monitor preparations to move a small irradiator from its existing location to a new facility about 2.5 miles away. But that short trip involved months of planning and tight coordination between the licensed owner, the NRC and local law enforcement agencies.

All irradiator operators must have a license from the NRC or an Agreement State before they can obtain a sealed source containing radioactive materials. Since Alaska is not an Agreement State, their lab-sized, self-shielded irradiator was subject to NRC licensing and oversight.

Before the irradiator was moved, the NRC team conducted a thorough inspection of the new facility to ensure security was adequate and procedures were in place for handling a variety of emergencies. James Thompson, Region IV Senior Health Physicist, and Brooke Smith, an acting branch chief in the Region’s Division of Nuclear Materials & Safety, spent several days reviewing company records and operations, worker training programs and maintenance procedures to ensure compliance with NRC regulations.

Late in the evening on February 10, Anchorage police began cordoning off streets along the route the irradiator would take to its new home. Shortly after 1 a.m., a special truck carrying the irradiator rolled out of a building under the watchful eyes of dozens of local enforcement agents and a SWAT team. The truck had special security features required for the movement of large quantities of radioactive material, per U.S. Department of Transportation requirements.

The tight security, the cover of darkness and the “cloak of secrecy” approach was more than a bit out of the ordinary for the NRC inspectors. But the journey proved uneventful – which was the ending to the story everyone was working toward.

Author: Moderator

Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

5 thoughts on “Under Cover of Night: An Irradiator Moves 2.5 Miles”

  1. My apologies: Gallup did poll the independents. Their decline of approval was much lower than the Dems and Republicans.
    Thanks for approving this.
    Mike Mulligan
    Hinsdale, NH

  2. You guys better knock off talking about unimportant happyland events like moving irradiators in Alaska. You need to start talking about the mindboggling enormous decline in Gallup’s public favorability with nuclear power within the last year and beginning in 2010. Most starling of all, your BFF the Republicans, the one year decline in their favorability to you is the most pronounced in a bad direction of the lot? They don’t poll the latest political affiliation of them all, the independents? How do you think they went? How are the politicians going to use this information to their advantage?

    How are the industry and NRC employees going to take advantage of this trend? Some say it is already beginning with the internal disagreements…The Arkansas Nuclear One “one” and the NRC “seven”?

    What kind of stampede event will it take to turn the rest of the good Americans away from your Industry? Is your risk significant system really going to protect you from this? You are fixated on the broken campaign contribution “risk determination system” as your ship is sinking?

    Guys, here comes the great re-regulations???

    My evaluation on the Gallup poll?

    “Dems and Repubs: Drastic Decline of Favorability with Nuclear Power During Last Year”

    Mike Mulligan
    Hinsdale, NH

  3. I wish that you had also pointed out that these irradiators are an absolutely essential part of sterilizing blood and instruments used in millions of operations every year. I appreciate the “cloak and dagger” tone of the story to make it interesting but the Red Cross states there are nearly 21 million units of blood transfused each year in the U.S. and it is being kept safe because of these irradiatiors. These are not dirty bombs but an essential part providing for public health world wide.

  4. I applaud the safety measures taken with the irradiator and all radioactive material. I am the Corporate RSO for Industrial Nuclear Co. which we manufacture and ship radioactive material. I’ll give you a laugh for today – We received some bulk material and Custom Critical sent me pictures of the two drivers and I thought they were both men but one had a feminine name so I called Custom Critical and said no, one of the drivers was female. A very nice lady but that picture sure made me wonder. Anyway thanks for maintaining safety and security.

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