Feds lock down nuclear stockpile

Federal regulators are tightening security for the country’s most potent nuclear materials.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) will publish a final rule on Tuesday that beefs up the protections for category 1 and category 2 nuclear materials to prevent them from being stolen.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) ranks nuclear materials on a scale from one to five based on their toxicity to individuals. Categories 1 and 2 are the most harmful, the guidelines say, and could cause “permanent injury or death” if handled incorrectly for “more than a few minutes.” 

Weighing in at 366 pages, the new regulations enhance precautions for the transport and handling of the most dangerous nuclear chemicals. The rules call for stronger background checks and the use of tracking devices to track the movement of materials.

The NRC specifically mentioned the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the Federal Register document, saying they “changed the threat environment” for nuclear materials. Some elements of the final rule will only be disbursed to certain nuclear material licensees because some of the orders “contained detailed security information that could be useful to an adversary,” the NRC wrote.

The agency wants to mandate some kind tracking device — though not GPS specifically — for following the movement of category 1 materials. The rules provide detailed explanations for how drivers should communicate when the materials are in transit, including updates about when a shipment departs and is expected to arrive.

The rule is one of many intended to strengthen the security of nuclear materials in the U.S., the agency said, and has been nearly three years in the making.

It will become effective 60 days after being published in the Federal Register, and compliance is required by March 19, 2014.