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Promoting Nuclear Security

Nuclear Security

Security experts assist in the prevention and detection of nuclear trafficking, and respond to threats of nuclear terrorism. (Credit: V. Mouchkin/IAEA)

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The IAEA global plan to fight nuclear terrorism keeps making important headway. At its heart are experts who assist countries to upgrade security against terrorist acts involving nuclear and other radioactive materials. As of March 2004, $27 million had been pledged by 24 States and one organization to fund the plan's three-year implementation, and 14 States had pledged other types of assistance. Support includes the services of nuclear and security experts who know how to prevent, detect, and respond to threats of nuclear terrorism. Developed in the wake of the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, the plan focuses on peer reviews, training, and advanced technologies to reinforce security. Its track record includes.

  • More than 50 evaluation missions to assess the physical protection of nuclear material at nuclear power plants and other facilities;


  • 60-plus training courses to help governments raise security standards at nuclear facilities, improve control of nuclear and radioactive material, upgrade border monitoring and prepare for emergencies; and


  • Equipment upgrades in numerous States.

Preventing Terrorist Threats

The main threat that States face today is the chance that terrorists could get their hands on nuclear material. The Head of the IAEA's Office of Nuclear Security, Dr. Anita Nilsson, says that the IAEA's work targets preventing terrorists from acquiring enough plutonium or high-enriched uranium to construct any type of nuclear explosive device. The plan identifies four basic threats:

IAEA Anti Terrorism Measures

Given the multiplicity of targets and terrorist scenarios, Dr. Nilsson said the Agency has adopted a far-reaching approach to prevent, detect and respond to terrorist acts involving radioactive or nuclear material in use, storage or transport. Top priorities include:

Upgrades to Physical Security
As part of the its anti-terrorism efforts, the Agency has initiated the International Nuclear Security Advisory Service (INSServ), aimed at identifying needs for additional, or improved, nuclear security on a State-wide basis.

The IAEA sends a group of experts to a country that requests the service. During the visit, any deficiencies in the country's nuclear security are identified. Dr. Nilsson said the recommendations generated from the visit "provide a platform for subsequent, more specific, nuclear security assistance, through IAEA programmes or through bilateral assistance". Such support includes technical advice, legislative and regulatory assistance, training and equipment. The Agency also helps solicit bilateral assistance to remedy security deficiencies for States in need.

Accountability & Control of Nuclear/-Radioactive Material
The IAEA has an active record in helping States locate and secure orphaned radioactive sources. It also assists them to formulate national strategies to bring such sources under proper control. The IAEA sent missions to Afghanistan, Georgia and Uganda for example, to recover radioactive sources that went astray and were not adequately protected. A Trilateral Initiative between the IAEA, the Russian Federation and the United States is securing powerful radioactive sources that were lost when the Soviet Union dissolved.

Strengthened Legislation & Regulations
Under IAEA auspices, many legally binding conventions and non-binding guidelines to protect against nuclear terrorism have been established. IAEA efforts are underway to strengthen and broaden the scope of the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material. The Code of Conduct for Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources was also recently strengthened. "The Agency is working to bring about adherence to these and other relevant legal instruments by a significantly increased number of States," Dr. Nilsson said. The IAEA also helps States establish a regulatory framework for nuclear security.

Measures to Detect and Interdict Illicit Trafficking
If prevention fails, and nuclear or radioactive material is stolen, measures must be in place to combat trafficking in these materials, Dr. Nilsson said. Some IAEA activities in this area include:

  1. Safeguards. The Agency's work to verify the peaceful uses of nuclear material in countries with safeguards agreements, strongly contributes to nuclear security, Dr. Nilsson said. IAEA inspections may contribute to detection of theft. In new initiative, the Agency now provides recommendations to national authorities and facility operators on ways to improve the accounting and control of nuclear material.


  2. Well trained staff. Strengthened nuclear security requires well-prepared staff, with adequate education and training. The IAEA provides security training at international, regional and national levels. One such example is training courses for front line officers in Azerbaijan and Cyprus who are most likely to encounter radioactive materials.


  3. Equipment. The IAEA helps countries to obtain the equipment necessary for physical protection of nuclear and other radioactive materials. For example equipment is need to detect smuggling attempts at border-crossing points. While at nuclear installations, technical systems that are important for the safety of the installation may require special protection against sabotage.

    "By working closely with Member States having bilateral nuclear support programmes, the Agency facilitates the provision of equipment through bilateral programmes," Dr. Nilsson said. Laboratories around the world are also working with the IAEA to improve the tools for detecting radioactive materials. The Agency provides, to a limited extent, such equipment. The IAEA is also establishing a system to provide nuclear forensics support to Member States to help them determine the origins of confiscated material.

Responding to Terrorist Acts; Theft and Sabotage
"Adequate measures must also be in place to respond to incidents of theft and sabotage and to be adequately prepared for a radiological emergency resulting from a malicious act," Dr. Nilsson said. "The Agency interacts with States having bilateral nuclear security support programmes, in particular to co-ordinate support for the required equipment," she said.

To enhance co-ordination with other UN agencies and bodies, the IAEA participates in the UN Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee. It also works closely with the World Customs Organization on security and trade issues, the Universal Postal Union on mail security issues, and Interpol and Europol in combating illicit nuclear trafficking.

"We have come a long way already from that dark day in September 2001," Dr. Nilsson said. "The IAEA has forged a global plan to fight against nuclear terrorism working together with all its Member States. We are now seeking ever-greater co-operation, and resources, to adequately address this imminent threat."