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.

The NRC Wants to Put the “U” in Strategic Plan

Francine Goldberg
Senior Advisor for Performance Management


Well, we do realize there is no “u” in “strategic plan,” but the NRC is drafting its 2014-2018 road map and we want your input before we finalize it.

Picture1The plan is updated every four years and is used to guide our work. You may not be aware that all of NRC’s business lines (operating reactors, new reactors, fuel facilities, nuclear materials, etc.) link their annual plans to the strategic plan and all our senior executive performance plans are linked to it as well.

If you’re familiar with our previous Strategic Plan, you’ll notice our mission and strategic goals remain basically unchanged, but the new plan does contain some new components. For example, a vision statement has been added to emphasize the importance, not only of what we achieve, but of how we regulate And there are now three strategic objectives, one for safety and two for security.

Each objective has associated strategies and key activities that will be used to achieve them. For example, this is one of the strategies for the safety objective along with three key activities:

Ensure the NRC’s readiness to respond to incidents and emergencies involving NRC-licensed facilities and radioactive materials, and other events of domestic and international interest.

·        Use operational experience and lessons learned from emergency-preparedness exercises to inform the regulatory activities.

·        Coordinate with federal, state, local, and tribal partners to strengthen national readiness and response capabilities.

·        Employ outreach before, during, and after emergency-preparedness exercises, and increase collaboration and sharing of best practices and lessons learned after emergency-preparedness exercises and incidents.

The goal of the comment period is to take advantage of the collective knowledge of the public – there is a “u” in public, after all — to make sure our plan is as good as it can be.

Picture1Why should you take the time to comment? Well, perhaps you are aware of a key external factor that we have missed that could affect the strategies and activities we have planned. Or maybe you have ideas for additional strategies or activities we need to focus on to achieve one of our objectives. This is your opportunity to weigh in and tell us if we are addressing the issues of importance to you. 

All comments will be reviewed and incorporated, as appropriate, into a revised plan. The disposition of substantive comments will be included in a Commission paper transmitting the resulting plan to the Commission for their final review and approval. 

Please submit your comments online through the federal government’s rulemaking website, www.regulations.gov using Docket ID NRC-2013-0230; or by mail to Cindy Bladey, Chief, Rules, Announcements, and Directives Branch, Office of Administration, Mail Stop:  3WFN-06-44M, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, DC 20555-0001. The comment period is coming quickly. It closes on 04/04/2014. Comments on this blog post cannot be considered, so please use the official channels. More information is also available in the Federal Register Notice.

We look forward to hearing from you soon.

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