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Cooperation, Coordination, and Communication Key to Securing Radioactive Material: IAEA Conference

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Mr Juan Carlos Lentijo, IAEA Deputy Director General, Department of Nuclear Safety and Nuclear Security, delivers his remarks at the closing session of the International Conference on the Security of Radioactive Material. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

Enhancing the protection of radioactive material from terrorists requires cooperation, coordination and communication among stakeholders not only nationally but also across borders, participants in the IAEA’s International Conference on the Security of Radioactive Material: The Way Forward for Prevention and Detection concluded.

Over 550 participants from more than 100 countries and 15 organizations at the December 3-7 conference discussed how to best secure radioactive material, which is widely used in medicine, agriculture and scientific research.

“A core message is that coordination is key to success,” IAEA Deputy Director General Juan Carlos Lentijo, Head of the Department of Safety and Security said in his concluding remarks. “There are several different ways to achieve the coordination needed. All involve strong and broad engagement with all stakeholders.”

Conference speakers highlighted the need for coordination at national, bilateral, and international levels to ensure that radioactive material remains secure.

“Legislation and regulations are frequently still being developed. Resources are scarce for needed equipment and training of staff in many States,” said Ambassador Maria Assunta Accili, Permanent Representative of Italy to the International Organizations in Vienna and co-president of the Conference. “A system for the detection of radioactive material, at least at borders, is essential even for States without their own high activity radioactive material. Radiological terrorism knows no borders.”

Authorities and those using radioactive sources – such as staff at hospitals, industries and research institutions – also must collaborate so that the material is protected, and quickly detected if it is lost, stolen or otherwise missing.

“We need to improve cooperation and coordination among all nuclear security stakeholders, including law enforcement, customs officers and staff at facilities such as hospitals among many others,” said Conference Co-President Arame Boye Faye, Director General of the Senegalese Authority for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety. Focusing on the international cooperation, she added, “We also need to…. cooperate, coordinate and communicate internationally, to ensure that there are no safe havens for those who seek to smuggle radioactive material across borders.”

All users of radioactive material must be made aware that it could be stolen and used with malicious intent, conference speakers said.

“To think that somebody would use radioactive material in a malicious or terrorist attack is scary,” said conference panelist Nafaa Reguigui, Director of Nuclear Safety and Security in Tunisia’s National Centre for Nuclear Science and Technologies. “If a small source is used, radiological impact wouldn’t be that great; but the psychological and economic impacts would be enormous.”

During the conference, six panel sessions and 25 technical sessions linked efforts to prevent radioactive material ending up in the wrong hands with work to detect any material that has been lost, stolen or is otherwise missing.

Some speakers described how their countries’ regulatory bodies coordinate among prevention, detection, and other communities involved in securing radioactive material. Others highlighted the role of public in alerting authorities about unusual events.

IAEA provides assistance to Member States, upon request, to support the security of radioactive sources through capacity-building activities, provision of equipment and support for educational and professional networks. Other resources include the Nuclear Security Series, peer reviews, advisory services; and, conferences such as this to exchange lessons-learned and coordinate the path forward to ensure sustainability of benefits of radioactive material.

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