Promoting Nuclear Security
Theft of a Nuclear Weapon
While highly unlikely, this represents the most serious threat with potentially devastating consequences. Responsibility for preventing theft rests with the States that possess nuclear weapons. The IAEA, however, can reinforce national efforts by actions directed at detecting cross-border smuggling of nuclear material and equipment.
Theft of Nuclear Material
The primary threat lies in terrorists acquiring sufficient quantities of plutonium or high-enriched uranium to construct a crude nuclear explosive device. Although sophisticated equipment and expertise is required to manufacture and detonate a nuclear device, the possibility cannot be discounted. A related threat is the dispersal of nuclear material (plutonium or various chemical forms of uranium or of spent fuel), leading to harmful radiological effects to people, property, and the environment.
Theft of Other Radioactive Materials
Radioactive substances, primarily sealed radioactive sources, are widely used for medical purposes or in industry or stored as waste. The primary threat associated with these materials, in particular with the radioactive sources, is if terrorists were to obtain the materials to disperse the radioactivity. One dramatic way would be if a sealed radioactive source was used to spike conventional explosives, in what is commonly referred to as a "dirty bomb". Such violent dispersal of radioactivity would certainly cause panic and economic damage, in addition to exposing the target population to radiation, the result of which would have both immediate and long-term effects.
Sabotage, for the purpose of causing immediate damage and radioactive dispersal, may be targeted on any application using nuclear or radioactive materials, be it nuclear power plants, fuel cycle facilities, research reactors, hospitals or industries using these substances or materials. An act of sabotage could cause immediate dispersal of radioactivity and cause damage by exposing the target population to radiation and by damaging both property and environment. An act of sabotage may also, in some cases, seriously impact on the society infrastructure; e.g. by loss of power supply to a large group of recipients.