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Nuclear Trafficking Remains Global Priority

International Effort Must Continue, Delegates At IAEA-Organized Event Conclude

Preventing the uncontrolled movement of nuclear materials remains a global priority. (Photo: V. Mouchkin/IAEA)

The illicit trafficking of nuclear material and the potential threat it poses continues to be an issue of international concern, while steps to establish effective technical and administrative systems to prevent the uncontrolled and unauthorised movement of nuclear and other radioactive materials must continue to be taken, delegates from 60 countries agreed at an IAEA-organized international conference in Edinburgh, Scotland.

The Illicit Nuclear Trafficking: Collective Experience and the Way Forward conference attendees also acknowledged the IAEA´s Illicit Trafficking Database (ITDB) to be a critical tool against nuclear trafficking, providing valuable information on "weaknesses and vulnerabilities" which may be exploited to acquire such material. Since it was established 12 years ago the database has recorded 1,266 incidents.

In the conference findings it was reported that halting the illicit movement of nuclear material, equipment and technologies that terrorists could use continues to be a global priority. A system that addresses both detection and prevention is essential, the conference attendees agreed. "Since the human, political and economic consequences of a successful malicious act involving nuclear or other radioactive materials could be far-reaching, the limited knowledge of direct attempts to acquire such material is no cause for comfort," said conference President Peter Jenkins.

The conference findings also stressed that international cooperation is essential to better understand the circumstances of trafficking events, patterns and trends, while continued effort is required to strengthen the compilation of information in systems such as the ITDB.

Although many states are benefiting from "dramatic improvements" - better equipped to combat illicit trafficking, supported by new international legal agreements, improvements in detection tools and techniques allowing material to be traced to its origin - significant disparities remain between the capabilities of some countries.

Recommendations made by the conference include the following:

  • Continue the development of new technologies for hard-to-detect fissile materials;


  • Share new technologies with states that lack them;


  • Take into account unguarded borders in the need to increase the sophistication of detection capabilities;


  • Formulate effective communication strategies to inform the public; and


  • Have the IAEA convene a further conference about illicit trafficking in 2010 to assess progress.

About 300 delegates from 60 states and 11 international organizations attended the Illicit Nuclear Trafficking: Collective Experience and the Way Forward conference from 19-22 November. The four-day event, which was hosted by the government of Great Britain, was called to take stock of global efforts to combat illicit nuclear trafficking and to consider future steps.

Last update: 27 July 2017