In a bid to prevent terrorists getting their hands on nuclear materials, delegates from 89 countries today agreed to substantially reinforce a United Nations-backed treaty with amendments that would reduce the risks of theft or smuggling of such materials, as well as of sabotage at nuclear facilities.
“This new and stronger treaty is an important step towards greater nuclear security by combating, preventing, and ultimately punishing those who would engage in nuclear theft, sabotage, or even terrorism,” UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohamed ElBaradei said at the end of a weeklong conference in Vienna.
“It demonstrates that there is indeed a global commitment to remedy weaknesses in our nuclear security regime,” he added of the amendments to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM), which was drawn up in 1980 and applied then only to such material in international transport.
The changes make it legally binding for States Parties to protect nuclear facilities and material in peaceful domestic use, its storage as well as its transport. They also provide for expanded cooperation between States regarding rapid measures to locate and recover stolen or smuggled nuclear material, mitigate any radiological consequences of sabotage, and prevent and combat related offences.
A group of experts has been working on strengthening CPPNM safeguards since the September 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States raised serious concerns about its effectiveness. The Vienna-based IAEA is the depositary of the treaty.
The new rules will come into effect once they have been ratified by two-thirds of the 112 States Parties of the Convention, expected to take several years.
“But concrete actions are already taking place around the world,” the director of the IAEA Office of Nuclear Security, Anita Nillson, said. “For more than three years, the IAEA has been implementing a systematic nuclear security plan, including physical protection activities designed to prevent, detect and respond to malicious acts.”
The Agency´s Nuclear Security Fund, set up after the 2001 attacks, has delivered $19.5 million in practical assistance to 121 countries, helping them to carry out the very kinds of things called for under the amendments, whether in terms of helping States identify vulnerabilities, training staff, or carrying out physical protection work.