National Nuclear Security Administration

NNSA, IAEA, and Argentina partner to reduce the risk of radiological terrorism through alternative technologies

March 20, 2019

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X-ray and electron beam irradiators can be used as a more secure alternative to high-activity radioactive sources like cobalt-60.
X-ray and electron beam irradiators can be used as a more secure alternative to high-activity radioactive sources like cobalt-60.

In the hands of a terrorist, high-activity radioactive sources could be used to make a radiological dispersal device, also known as a “dirty bomb.” These sources, such as cobalt-60, also have legitimate uses including sterilizing medical equipment and removing harmful bacteria or pests from food.

NNSA’s Office of Radiological Security (ORS) works with partners worldwide to enhance global security by preventing high-activity radioactive materials from being used in acts of terrorism. One strategy ORS uses to achieve its mission is to reduce global reliance on radioactive sources by deploying alternative technology replacements and assisting in the removal of the original source-based devices.

ORS and Argentina’s Subsecretariat of Nuclear Energy and National Atomic Energy Commission held a workshop in Argentina to present alternative technologies for industrial irradiation in February. The workshop highlighted how electron beam and X-ray technologies are becoming increasingly viable alternatives for industrial irradiation, especially as cobalt-60 becomes scarcer and more tightly regulated for safety and security.

You can get a $20 million value of cobalt in only $8 million invested in X-ray. Financially, it makes sense.

Arved Deecke
Founder of food irradiator Benebión

The workshop participants included representatives of regulatory bodies and private industry from 15 countries and the International Atomic Energy Agency. This diverse selection of speakers discussed the alternative electron beam and X-ray technologies.

Arved Deecke, an attendee who founded Benebión, a Mexican food and medical equipment sterilization company, said the workshop drove home the benefits of using X-rays as an alternative to cobalt.

“You can get a $20 million value of cobalt in only $8 million invested in X-ray. Financially, it makes sense,” he said.

The workshop included panels for attendees to explain their perspectives on alternative technologies and how adoption can be accelerated.

“This event was an important step towards fostering greater regional understanding on a rapidly growing area of industrial irradiation,” said Michael Garcia, Environment, Science & Technology Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Argentina. “Electron beam and X-ray technology are a way to mitigate security risks while still meeting commercial demand for irradiation, both important goals for the United States and its partners in South and Central America.”

NNSA works with government, law enforcement, and businesses to reduce radiological risk by providing world-class security solutions, expertise, training, source recovery, and alternative technology strategies to users of radioactive sources.

Learn more about the Office of Radiological Security.

From left, Michael Garcia of the U.S. Embassy Buenos Aires, Julian Gadano of Argentina’s Subsecretariat of Nuclear Energy, Evan Thompson of NNSA, and Tomas Bieda of the Subsecretariat of Nuclear Energy, who all attended the workshop.
From left, Michael Garcia of the U.S. Embassy Buenos Aires, Julian Gadano of Argentina’s Subsecretariat of Nuclear Energy, Evan Thompson of NNSA, and Tomas Bieda of the Subsecretariat of Nuclear Energy, who all attended the workshop.