The United Nations agency that plays a leading role in trying to stop terrorists getting their hands on nuclear materials is seeking greater funding to carry out its task following this week’s Washington summit on nuclear security.
From protecting nuclear sites against theft and sabotage to enabling secure repatriation of used but still dangerous atomic fuels to helping countries guard against radioactive attacks on major events such as the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games or June’s soccer World Cup in South Africa, the Vienna-based UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is front and centre.
“The IAEA needs stronger and more predictable funding to do its job better,” Director General Yukiya Amano, who attended the two-day summit convened by United States President Barack Obama, said of the agency, which has 151 Member States.
“I am grateful to all those who have matched their words of support with much needed pledges to ensure that the IAEA has the resources it needs to make all of us more secure.”
In a communiqué issued following the Washington nuclear security summit, which ended yesterday, the 47 participating States reaffirmed “the essential role of the IAEA in the international nuclear security framework” and pledged to “work to ensure that it continues to have the appropriate structure, resources and expertise needed to carry out its mandated nuclear security activities.”
Mr. Amano thanked the attending leaders for their moral and political support. “I am pleased that the IAEA’s efforts to make nuclear facilities and borders more secure to reduce the threat of nuclear terrorism are recognized at the highest levels of government,” he said.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who also attended the summit, has proposed a series of high-level meetings to flesh out efforts to prevent nuclear terrorism, including a conference to speed up universal adoption of the five-year-old International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, which has so far been ratified by only 65 countries – barely a third of UN Member States.
Ahead of the summit, IAEA Office of Nuclear Security Director Anita Nilsson warned of the “real threat” that terrorists could construct a nuclear explosive or radiological dispersal device, a so-called dirty bomb, and use it.
Agency experts help countries protect their nuclear facilities and transport against sabotage or theft, offering specialized training and backing the installation of radiological monitoring equipment at border crossings. In the past six years the agency has helped Member States repatriate 45 consignments of radioactive materials from developing countries where they were used in medicine, industry or research.
In less than a decade, it has trained 9,000 experts in 120 countries on all aspects of nuclear security, improved facility security in 30 states, and supplied 3,000 detection instruments to more than 50 States.
IAEA support in securing major public events against nuclear terrorism involves months and even years of planning. The Beijing Olympics involved one and a half years of work in training people to detect radioactive material that might be brought into the venues and to know what to do if that happened.
The upcoming soccer World Cup in South Africa is another example where the IAEA is supplying training and radiation detection equipment as were the 2004 Olympics in Greece, the 2006 World Cup in Germany and the 2007 Pan American Games in Brazil.
Should a nuclear security incident occur or a nuclear or radiation emergency arise, the IAEA Incident and Emergency Centre coordinates 24/7 specialized support and assistance for Member States.