U.S. Helps Argentina Nab Radiation Thief

Earlier this year, two armed men stole a wafer-sized canister of cesium from Baker Atlas, a subsidiary of the multinational drilling company Baker Hughes. The company uses cesium to estimate the amount of oil and natural gas a well might produce, but the material can also be added to a bomb to make it radioactive.

In an article on The Wall Street Journal website, Siobhan Gorman says Argentine authorities recovered the cesium in less than two days thanks to a new emergency response process through the U.S. global nuclear security program. A former Baker Atlas employee, who had been fired for cause, was charged with aggravated theft.

The U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration helps foreign governments establish nuclear emergency response centers and provides detection equipment and training. It is expanding its role from a nuclear-weapons complex to a nuclear-security enterprise, an NNSA administrator told Gorman. The Obama administration wants the program to be viewed as “a significant step in controlling the global risk of radioactive material falling into the wrong hands.”

But while the program worked well in Argentina, an allied country to the US, boosting emergency response might prove more challenging in more troublesome areas according to David Mosher of Rand Corp. He said radioactive materials are so widely used for medical and industrial purposes, response and recovery are a continuing problem. Threats like the theft in Argentina would be more difficult to track in less-friendly environments.

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