Radioactive material headed to Michigan from an Ohio company never made it to its destination, a filing by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission revealed. In its "Current Event Notification" report for Wednesday, the commission that regulates commercial nuclear power plants and other civilian uses of nuclear materials in the United States said the Ohio Bureau of Radiation Protection had informed officials about a missing shipment involving Prime NDT Services.
The Ohio radiation bureau learned from Prime NDT that a source of Iridium-192 was shipped through an unnamed carrier on July 12 from a facility in Strasburg, Ohio, to a facility in Michigan, the NRC said. Iridium-192 is a radioactive isotope of iridium, which can be used in industrial gauges that inspect welding seams in such equipment as pipelines and in medicine to treat certain cancers, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The material can also be used to make a dirty bomb.
According to the Detroit News, Prime NDT Services is an Ohio-based inspection company that performs testing services in the energy and industrial industries, many involving pipelines and other energy industry equipment.
The nuclear commission report categorized the isotope as a "Category 2" level of radioactive material, but did not specify the quantity of material that was being shipped or how it was packaged.
"Category 2 sources, if not safely managed or securely protected, could cause permanent injury to a person who handled them, or were otherwise in contact with them, for a short time (minutes to hours)," the report said. "It could possibly be fatal to be close to this amount of unshielded radioactive material for a period of hours to days."
According to the NRC classification scale, Category 1 nuclear materials are for strategic uses and include quantities in excess of 5 kilograms of uranium 235 or uranium-233 or 2 kilograms of plutonium. Five kilograms equals slightly more than 11 pounds. Think plutonium which Doc Brown stole from the Libyans.
Category 2 materials contain more than 1,000 grams of U-235 or more than 500 grams of U-233 or plutonium, or in a combined quantity of more than 1,000 grams. One thousand grams is equal to 2.2 pounds.
At the bottom is Category 3: materials would be those classified with more than 15 grams of U-235 or U-233 or plutonium alone or combined. Fifteen grams equals a little more than 8 ounces.
So here's the problem: "As of July 21, the source has not been delivered ..." the Ohio commission's notice to the NRC reads.
It was unclear how long shipping the material to Michigan would have been expected to take. The company is based in Ohio just south of Akron, but the Michigan delivery point was not specified. The carrier transmitting the material was redacted in the NRC notice.
The incident report refers to the shipment as a "Lost Source."
The carrier "is aware of the situation and believes that the package was delayed at their facility. On July 20, (the common carrier) informed Prime NDT Services Inc. that the package could not be located." The information was revised Thursday to include the departments and entities notified.
According to the CDC, for industrial uses, Ir-192 would be packaged in "pencil-like metal sticks of solid Ir-192 or small pencil-like tubes that contain pellets of Ir-192."
External exposure to the material, the CDC says, can cause burns, acute radiation sickness and even death. Swallowing any Ir-192 pellets could cause burns in the stomach and intestines (and since this is the CDC, one naturally has to wear a mask in its immediate presence).
The material, while having medical and industrial uses, may also be used in what is known as "dirty bombs."
According to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonprofit organization that works to prevent attacks and accidents involving nuclear material, "a radioactive 'dirty bomb' or radiological dispersal device made by combining radioactive material with conventional explosives to spread it ... could cause significant short- and long-term health problems for those in the area and could leave billions of dollars in damage due to the costs of evacuation, relocation and cleanup."
Radioactive materials used in those devices, the NTI says, "are dispersed across thousands of commercial, industrial, medical and research sites ... and many of them are poorly secured, particularly during transport when they are vulnerable to theft. In fact, the same isotopes used for life-saving blood transfusions and cancer treatments in hospitals around the world— such as cesium-137, cobalt-60 and iridium-192— could be used to build a bomb."
The event notification report for the material intended to be shipped to Michigan stated that multiple agencies were alerted, including the Environmental Protection Agency and Federal Emergency Management Agency. Also, the notice said, "the state of Tennessee has been informed."