UN agency tackles potential nuclear threat at European soccer championships

Poster of the Polish Energy Group (PGE) stadium in  Gdansk, Poland
Poster of the Polish Energy Group (PGE) stadium in Gdansk, Poland

UN agency tackles potential nuclear threat at European soccer championships

When the 2012 European soccer championships kick off in Poland and Ukraine next June, the United Nations atomic energy will be centrefield offering its expertise to guarantee the safety of the tournament’s spectators and participants.

With over one million fans expected to descend on the two countries during the tournament, the Vienna-based UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will provide first-hand experience in training authorities in Poland and Ukraine to quickly detect, identify, and deal with a potential atomic threat.

“In each country, nuclear security is the responsibility of each Member State and, of course, every Member State tries to establish and sustain their nuclear security infrastructure,” explained Khammar Mrabit, Director of the IAEA’s Office of Nuclear Security, today.

“At the same time, there are always cases where sources of nuclear material are lost and if these fall into the wrong hands, they can be used for malicious acts,” he added.

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 the 2010 soccer World Cup in South Africa, the IAEA has frequently played a major role.

The Beijing Olympics involved one and a half years of work in which the IAEA helped train people to detect radioactive material that might be brought into the venues, and to know what to do if that happened. Greece, Germany, Brazil and Mexico likewise called on agency support for the 2004 Olympics, the 2006 World Cup, and the 2007 and 2010 Pan American Games respectively.

IAEA experts help States protect nuclear facilities and transport against sabotage or theft, offering specialized training, helping to enhance cooperation between various national law enforcement officials and backing the installation of radiological monitoring equipment and training at border crossings.

“We have around 200 events per year in our illicit trafficking database showing that nuclear material can be used for malicious acts,” Mr. Mrabit said. “Therefore we’re trying everything together with the Member States to prevent and reduce these threats and these risks.”

Some 110 States and several international organizations voluntarily contribute information to the agency’s illicit trafficking database, which tracks nuclear or other radioactive materials outside authorized custody and control.

On top of this, the IAEA also undertakes various types of on-site visits to assess a State’s specific security vulnerabilities, needs, and capabilities.