Edward McGaffigan, head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, testified before a Senate committee about a recent report revealing that undercover agents from the General Accounting Office set up a sham company and received a license from the NRC. It was used to buy dozens of moisture-density gauges — machines that contain small amounts of radioactive isotopes, like americium. All together, the officials say they got enough radioactive material to build a so-called dirty bomb.
But McGaffigan told the Senate committee that it's quite a leap from obtaining that material to actually producing a dirty bomb, which he doubted Al Qaeda could do without help.
That reassurance prompted an exchange with Minnesota Republican Norm Coleman. "If states start aiding al Qaeda and they use americium, which is hard to detect with the detectors that we have at our borders, then that's a problem," McGaffigan said, adding that it will require more resources than the NRC has to solve.