RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Radioactive devices are all over. They’re used every day in a variety of businesses such as construction, food preparation, and medical services.

In today’s society, there’s a real danger the materials in those devices can be stolen to create so-called dirty bombs. To try and prevent that, a government program aimed at eliminating those radioactive devices or making them more secure is underway. The goal is to keep those substances out of the wrong hands.

Back in the early 1950s, they sold kid’s chemistry sets with real uranium. Billed as “exciting and fun,” the kits allowed children to experiment with nuclear materials.

Today, it’s understood that radioactive materials are not for child’s play.

Just a little radioactive material, the equivalent of a pinch of salt, is enough to create a dirty bomb that can wreak havoc on a city or town, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The Office of Radiological Security works to prevent high-activity radiological materials such as Cesium 137 or Cobalt 60 from getting into the hands of terrorists.

“A potential radiological terror incident in a major U.S. city could result in substantial economic and social impacts,” said Emily Adams of the National Nuclear Security Administration.

That’s why the U.S Energy Department created the RadSecure 100 program to remove radioactive materials in 100 metropolitan areas including Raleigh.

Sometimes the devices can be a massive radiation machine used in a hospital for cancer treatment, or they can be portable like a handheld nuclear gauge used in construction. That handheld device uses gamma rays to measure the density and moisture content of soil at construction sites.

Back in May 2021, someone stole one of those devices in Durham. It was later recovered intact.

Securing devices like that, as well as those in hospitals and research facilities, is why the Office of Radiological Security is looking at alternative radiation technologies when feasible.

“It took a while for technology to catch up,” said Roger Sit. He is the Radiation Safety Officer UNC and UNC Hospitals. “Now that it has caught up, alternative sources of radiation are much preferred.”

Even so, there are still more than 1,200 buildings across the country containing what the government calls “materials of concern.”

In fact, here in the Triangle, the office of Radiological Security told CBS 17 it has removed four high-activity radioactive sources in buildings, which it won’t name for security purposes.

It also replaced one high-radioactive source with an alternative technology.

In addition, it is providing security enhancements to protect eight more buildings in the Raleigh, Chapel Hill, and Durham areas that use high-activity radioactive sources.

Consumer Investigator Steve Sbraccia asked Adams how she would access the risk now as opposed 10 years ago.

“We’ve actually made tremendous progress,” she said.

For radiological devices that can’t be replaced, security around them has increased.

“ORS helped put in infrastructure to require 3 factor access control into all these facilities,” Sit said.

When it comes to law enforcement, they are trained to deal differently with radiological devices if they are stolen.

“When an alert goes out, it is not characterized as like the theft of a bicycle, but rather as the theft of a potential WMD national security event,” Adams said.

To do that, the ORS is repeatedly conducting special hands-on training programs around the area for local law enforcement agencies, so they’ll know exactly how to deal with the theft of nuclear materials if and when it happens.