More than 90 IAEA Member States are meeting this week in Vienna to discuss ways to improve the sharing of information about incidents involving illicit trafficking and other unauthorized activities and events involving nuclear material and other radioactive materials.
The illicit trafficking of nuclear and other radioactive materials remains of serious concern to the international community. To help combat this problem, the IAEA maintains an illicit trafficking database (ITDB) of incidents which, so far, contains over 2200 confirmed incidents reported to the IAEA by the international community since 1995. Most of these incidents involve radioactive materials that could cause harm if used by terrorists or handled innocently by people who are unaware that the materials are radioactive . A small portion of the incidents involve uranium and plutonium - materials that if acquired in sufficient quantity by terrorists could be used to make a nuclear explosive.
A large number of incidents recorded in the ITDB also involve radioactive materials that pose a low risk to human health but can have regulatory and economic consequences. These include the illegal or inadvertent transportation of radioactively contaminated scrap metals either within or across international borders. Such contaminated material can be costly to clean up if it enters scrap recycling centres, even though the radiation levels are very low.
The ITDB programme was established in 1995 and enables information on incidents to be rapidly shared within the international community. Once a State notifies the IAEA of an incident, its Office of Nuclear Security rapidly sends that information to the States that participate in the ITDB programme. The IAEA also analyses this information with a view to identifying any trends and patterns in reported incidents. The results of this analysis are also communicated to the participating States and can help identify areas where nuclear security can be improved. The results are also used in the development of the IAEA's Nuclear Security Plan which is produced on a four year cycle. This plan is important for determining the assistance that the IAEA provides to States to improve their nuclear security.
So far, a total of 116 States have joined the ITDB, and the IAEA encourages all of its Member States to participate.