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UN atomic watchdog agency reports cases of illegal trafficking in nuclear materials

UN atomic watchdog agency reports cases of illegal trafficking in nuclear materials

Vehicle-mounted radiation detector, Rep. of Georgia
The United Nations atomic watchdog agency, whose tasks include pre-empting nuclear and radiological terrorism and preventing proliferation, today reported 149 confirmed incidents of illicit trafficking and other unauthorized activities involving nuclear and radioactive materials in 2006.

Of these, 15 involved the seizure of nuclear and radioactive materials from individuals who possessed them illegally, according to preliminary figures released by the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Office of Nuclear Security.

“Some of these individuals were attempting to sell the material or smuggle it across national borders,” IAEA said in a statement of the incidents, which were reported by the states involved with the Office’s Illicit Trafficking Database (ITDB). “Six of these incidents involved nuclear materials. Five involved materials such as natural uranium, depleted uranium, and thorium and one involved high-enriched uranium (HEU).”

In the latter case, Georgia reported that in February 2006, 79.5 grammes of uranium enriched to 89 per cent was seized from a group of criminals in Tbilisi, the capital. The other incidents of illegal possession reported to the ITDB involved radioactive sources.

Just last week, the IAEA noted another reported case in which Georgia seized about 100 grams of uranium enriched to a level considered to be weapons-grade during a sting operation. Over the past several years, the agency has been assisting Georgia in the effective monitoring, control and recovery of nuclear and radioactive materials.

In previous statements the IAEA has warned that “in the hands of terrorists or other criminals, some radioactive sources could be used for malicious purposes, for example in a radiological dispersal device or ‘dirty bomb’.”

The other 134 incidents reported to the IAEA for 2006 included 85 involving theft or loss of nuclear or other radioactive materials, mainly radioactive sources. In about 75 per cent of the cases, the materials lost or stolen had not been recovered at the time of reporting.

The remaining 49 involved other unauthorized activities, primarily unauthorized disposal of radioactive sources and radioactively contaminated materials and discovery of uncontrolled, or orphan, radioactive materials. Another 103 incidents were reported in 2006 that occurred in previous years.

The ITDB was established by the IAEA in 1995 to facilitate exchange of authoritative information related to trafficking in nuclear and other radioactive materials among Member States. To date, 95 countries and organizations are members of the ITDB. A more complete report is expected later this year, in advance of the IAEA General Conference of Member States in September.