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Trafficking in Nuclear and Radioactive Material in 2005

Story Resources

There were 103 confirmed incidents of illicit trafficking and other unauthorized activities involving nuclear and radioactive materials in 2005, newly released statistics from the Agency´s Illicit Trafficking Database (ITDB) show.

The ITDB covers a broad range of cases from illegal possession, attempted sale and smuggling, to unauthorized disposal of materials and discoveries of lost radiological sources.

Eighteen of the confirmed incidents in 2005 involved nuclear materials; 76 involved radioactive material, mainly radioactive sources; two involved both nuclear and other radioactive materials, and seven involved radioactively contaminated materials.

Another 57 incidents from previous years were reported. They involved illicit trafficking and other unauthorized activities and had occurred earlier, mainly in 2004.

Two reported cases in 2005 involved small quantities of high-enriched uranium (HEU) which is a fissile material. In New Jersey, USA, a package containing 3.3 grams of HEU was reported inadvertently disposed of. The second incident occurred in Fukui, Japan, when a neutron flux detector containing 0.0017 grams was lost at a nuclear power plant.

"From the terrorism threat standpoint, these cases are of little concern but they show security vulnerabilities at facilities handling HEU," the latest report from the ITDB said. Indeed the majority of cases reported in 2005 showed no evidence of criminal activity.

The ITDB facilitates the exchange of authoritative information on incidents of trafficking in nuclear and radioactive materials. There are 91 countries that report to the IAEA´s database. See Story Resources for the full report, which covers the past 13 years.

The Past 13 Years: 1993 - 2005

Nuclear Materials
During the thirteen year period, there were 16 confirmed incidents that involved trafficking in HEU and plutonium - which are fissile materials needed to make a nuclear weapon. A few of these incidents involved seizures of kilogram quantities of weapons-usable nuclear material, but most involved very small quantities.
View Chart: Incidents Involving HEU and Pu (1993-2005) » [pdf]

The majority of confirmed cases with nuclear materials involved low-grade nuclear materials, i.e. low enriched uranium (LEU) mostly in the form of reactor fuel pellets, and natural uranium, depleted uranium, and thorium. "Where information on motives is available, it indicates that profit seeking is the principal motive behind such events," the ITDB report said.
View Chart: Incidents Involving Nuclear Materials (1993-2005) » [pdf]

Other Radioactive Materials
During 1993-2005, just over 60 incidents involved high-risk "dangerous" radioactive sources, which present considerable radiological danger if used in a malicious act. "In the hands of terrorists or other criminals, some radioactive sources could be used for malicious purposes, e.g. in a radiological dispersal device (RDD) or ´dirty bomb´," the ITDB said. The overwhelming majority of incidents concerning "dangerous" sources were reported over the last six years. The majority of all incidents involved the radioisotope Caesium 137.
View Chart: Incidents Involving Radioactive Sources, by Type of Radioisotope (1993-2005) » [pdf]
View Chart: Incidents Involving Radioactive Sources, by Type of Application (1993-2005) » [pdf]

See Story Resources for more information.