Strengthening Nuclear Security

IAEA's "Essential Role" in Building a Global Response to a Global Threat

Global attention is focusing on nuclear power and one of the key ingredients for its growth, nuclear security.

Global attention focused on nuclear power and one of the key ingredients for its growth, nuclear security, during the Nuclear Security Summit, convened in Washington, D.C. on 12 and 13 April 2010 by US President Barack Obama. The IAEA defines nuclear security as "the means and ways of preventing, detecting, and responding to sabotage, theft, and unauthorized access to or illegal transfer of nuclear material and other radioactive substances, as well as their associated facilities".

The Challenge

It´s a phrase as weighty as the challenge States face to prevent anyone from acquiring radioactive materials to make a crude, yet devastating weapon. The IAEA works closely with its Member States to establish and enhance the measures needed to control and protect nuclear and radioactive materials, as well as prevent illicit nuclear materials trafficking.

Preventing the Unthinkable

On 13 April 2010, the 47 States that attended the Nuclear Security Summit issued their Communiqué of the Washington Nuclear Security Summit, stating that they "reaffirm the essential role of the IAEA in the international nuclear security framework and will work to ensure that it continues to have the appropriate structure, resources and expertise needed to carry out its mandated nuclear security activities in accordance with its Statute, relevant General Conference resolutions and its Nuclear Security Plans." In addition, the Work Plan, a supporting document to the Communiqué, made extensive reference to the work of the IAEA and how Member States could enhance it.

IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano welcomed the strong support expressed by the 47 Heads of State and Government, saying "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."

The IAEA Director General thanked the leaders attending the Summit for the moral and political support they gave to the Agency´s nuclear security activities. "The IAEA needs stronger and more predictable funding to do its job better," he said. "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."

By offering training, providing technical assistance, delivering equipment and issuing guidance on improving nuclear security, the IAEA helps States prevent, detect and respond to criminal or unauthorized acts involving nuclear or radiological material.

IAEA experts help States protect nuclear facilities and transport against sabotage or theft. The Agency coordinates support and funding to strengthen and upgrade security at nuclear facilities and in transport. To close any gaps in these defences, the IAEA offers States specialised training, helps intensify cooperation between law enforcement officials and supports the installation of radiological monitoring equipment and training at border crossings.

Incidents and Emergencies

Should a nuclear security incident occur or a nuclear or radiation emergency arise, the IAEA´s Vienna-based Incident and Emergency Centre (IEC) coordinates 24/7 specialized support and assistance for Member States.

Protecting Major Events

An improvised weapon that disperses radiological materials poses the greatest risk when triggered in a densely populated area. The IAEA helps States plan, train and equip themselves to reduce the risk.

Member States have called upon the IAEA to assist them in effectively securing major public events against radiological threats, including: the Olympic Games (Greece 2004, China 2008), the Pan American Games (Brazil 2007), and World Cup competitions (Germany 2006, South Africa 2010).

Tracking Trouble

A total of 110 States and several international organizations voluntarily contribute information to the Illicit Trafficking Database, which tracks nuclear or other radioactive materials outside of authorized custody and control.

In addition, information is gathered from open-source reports. This data allows the IAEA to detect patterns emerging, trace smuggling routes and methods, and assist States in minimizing the risk.

On-Site Support

The IAEA undertakes various types of on-site visits to assess a State´s specific security vulnerabilities, needs and capabilities.

The International Nuclear Security Advisory Services help identify a State´s broad nuclear security requirements and the measures needed to meet them.

The IAEA evaluates States´ physical protection arrangements through its International Physical Protection Advisory Services.

The nuclear material itself must be precisely inventoried and controlled, a task which falls under the State Systems for Accountancy and Control (SSAC). Through the IAEA´s SSAC Advisory Services, States acquire recommendations and suggestions to improve these functions.

International legal instruments have been adopted to harmonize and strengthen the global effort to prevent nuclear terrorism. The IAEA dispatches international teams of experts to States to support these agreements´ effective implementation in national legislation and law enforcement procedures.

Addressing a wide range of national safety legislation and regulations, the regulatory experts that undertake Integrated Regulatory Reviews help States improve their national regulatory bodies´ effectiveness and support these authorities as they implement regulations.

IAEA Nuclear Security in Numbers

  • Training: 400 workshops and courses provided to over 9000 individuals from 120 States;
  • Field Visits: 200+ conducted at more than 350 sites;
  • Illicit Trafficking Cases: 1383 confirmed;
  • Radioactive Materials: 4 700+ sources secured in more than 35 States;
  • Radioactive Sources: 170+ repatriated to supplier States;
  • Research Reactor Fuel Repatriated: 1040 kg;
  • Physical Protection Upgrades: 100+ sites in 30 States; and
  • Detection Equipment: 3000+ instruments to 55 States.

Security Partnerships

The IAEA works with many other international organizations and key partners on nuclear security, including: Border Monitoring Working Group, Europol, G8 Global Partnership, Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, Global Threat Reduction Initiative, International Civil Aviation Organization, International Crime Police Organization, International Maritime Organization, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Sub-Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods, Committee of the Security Council, World Institute for Nuclear Security, United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute, United Nation´s Office on Drugs and Crime, Universal Postal Union and World Customs Organization.

Last update: 10 September 2014