Declaring that the “threat of nuclear terrorism is real and current,” the head of the United Nations atomic watchdog today called for urgent international measures to prevent radioactive matter from falling into the hands of terrorists, citing increased trafficking of nuclear or other radioactive materials as a “disturbing” sign.
“The security of nuclear and other radioactive material has taken on dramatically heightened significance in recent years,” International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei told the Asia-Pacific Conference on Nuclear Safeguards and Security meeting in Sydney, Australia.
“The events of September 2001 (terrorist attack on the United States) propelled the rapid and dramatic re-evaluation of the risks of terrorism in all its forms – whether related to the security of urban centres, sports arenas, industrial complexes, harbours and waterways, oil refineries, air and rail travel, or nuclear and radiological activities,” he said. “Nuclear security should be urgently strengthened, without waiting for a ‘watershed’ nuclear security event to provide the impetus for needed security upgrades.”
Mr. ElBaradei said that “perhaps the most disturbing lesson to emerge” from IAEA probes into recent nuclear programmes in Iran and Libya was the existence of an extensive illicit market for the supply of nuclear items which clearly thrived on demand.
“The relative ease with which a multinational illicit network could be set up and operated demonstrates clearly the inadequacy of the present export control system,” he added, noting that 60 incidents of trafficking were reported in 2003 and the total for this year will be even higher.
While the majority of these incidents did not involve nuclear material and most radioactive sources involved were of limited concern, the number showed that measures to control and secure nuclear and other radioactive materials need to be improved. “They also show that measures to detect and respond to illicit trafficking are essential,” Mr. ElBaradei said.
He called for better control of the sensitive parts of the nuclear fuel cycle, namely the production of enriched uranium and the reprocessing of plutonium – essential elements in producing nuclear weapons.