Homeland Security & Your Nuclear Gauge

Homeland Security is on the minds of everyone these days. Undoubtedly you have read stories in the newspapers or watched reports on television about the possibility of radioactive materials being used for illicit purposes. The sources in portable gauges are sealed in stainless steel capsules that would be difficult to breach and cause radioactive contamination. Further, the relatively small amount of radioactive material would not represent a major hazard if spread over a large area.

However, during the period from January 1996 to October 2000 there were 156 reported thefts of nuclear gauges according to statistics maintained by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Only 40% of the stolen gauges were ever recovered. Most of the thefts occurred while gauges were stored in vehicles parked in areas away from the work site, often when the vehicle was parked at a private residence. NRC’s analysis indicates that many gauges were stolen from trucks even when the gauges were secured with chains. Frequently, the gauges were locked in an open truck bed, readily visible to the public. Sometimes the entire vehicle was stolen along with the gauge. Because of the heightened concern about homeland security, all nuclear gauge thefts are being turned over to the FBI for investigation.

What can you do to keep your gauge more secure during transport and field operations, to avoid regulatory violations and fines, and to stay out the headlines? Here are some common sense suggestions:

  1. Maintain control and constant visual surveillance of nuclear gauges. This is the most fundamental responsibility of the gauge operator. Things can happen to gauges when you turn your back or leave a gauge unattended – even for a few moments.
  2. Reduce the visibility of the gauge. Transport the gauge inside a closed vehicle, inside a tool box, or under a cargo cover to reduce visibility. A bright yellow box with a big chain in the back of an open truck calls attention to itself as something valuable – something worth stealing. Furthermore, chains are easily and quickly cut.
  3. Require gauges to be locked inside closed or covered vehicle compartments or lock boxes. Many types and styles of steel lock boxes are available that can be bolted directly to the vehicle and locked. In addition to reducing visibility, these lock boxes provide greater security than a chain. Troxler is now offering a mounted transportation box made specifically for our gauges.
  4. Do not park vehicles in areas vulnerable to theft.
  5. Never leave the keys inside a vehicle when the vehicle is unattended.
  6. Use a steering wheel lock when the vehicle is parked. In some cases, preventing the theft of the vehicle is the key to preventing the loss of a portable gauge.
  7. Store the gauge at a permanent or temporary storage facility whenever the gauge is not in use. Your permanent storage location is listed on your license. A temporary storage facility may also be established at a job site, e.g., a locked room or trailer. You should make sure that any storage location is very secure. All radiation protection rules must be followed as well, e.g., posting the area with Caution Radioactive Material signs.
  8. Hold special gauge user training to increase awareness of security. Make sure that all personnel are aware of and understand the proper procedures for the physical security of gauges. It is a good idea to hold a session with all gauge operators at the beginning of each construction season and review your company’s security procedures.
  9. Conduct spot checks or inspections of operators in the field. Hold operators accountable and perform spot checks to make sure that security procedures are being followed.

For further information, see these recent information NRC information notices:

 IN 2001-11, Thefts of Portable Gauges

 IN 2002-30, Control & Surveillance of Portable Gauges During Field Operations

If you have any ideas on this subject, we would be interested in hearing about them. Please e-mail us to tell how you maintain security during transportation of your gauge.