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IAEA Conference Focusses on Strengthening and Sustaining Nuclear Security Amid Emerging Threats

Vienna, Austria

 IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi at the opening of the Ministerial Segment of the International Conference on Nuclear Security: Shaping the Future, held at the Agency headquarters in Vienna, Austria. 20 May 2024. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

Over 130 countries meet at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) this week to strengthen nuclear security efforts to counter the threat of nuclear terrorism and other malicious acts in the face of emerging risks.

At yesterday’s opening session of the International Conference on Nuclear Security, a major nuclear security event happening every four years, the Co-Presidents released a joint statement recognising how the growing use of nuclear science and technology requires robust nuclear security measures to enhance and protect nuclear material and other radioactive material against theft and nuclear facilities against sabotage.

The joint statement from Tim Watts, Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs of Australia, and Sungat Yessimkhanov, Vice-Minister of Energy of Kazakhstan, the Co-Presidents of the Conference, was finalised following negotiations with all IAEA Member States. It highlights how emerging and innovative technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), present both challenges and benefits for nuclear security.

The joint statement reaffirmed that nuclear security measures may enhance public confidence in the peaceful use of nuclear applications. The global application of nuclear technology continues to expand, spanning from clean energy to life-saving advancements such as radiotherapy for cancer patients, and even the development of novel crop varieties through irradiation.

Nuclear security is a national responsibility and involves preventing, detecting and responding to malicious acts with nuclear material, radioactive substances or their associated facilities. The increasing global use of digital technologies means that concrete vigilance is needed to precisely address computer security threats, cyberattacks and any potential vulnerabilities that digital technologies have and are presenting.

“The many benefits from nuclear applications depend on a strong and adaptive global nuclear security regime and laser-focused vigilance. Groups with malicious intent must not be given a chance to use nuclear and radioactive material to cause panic or harm,” said IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi at the opening of the week-long conference at IAEA headquarters.

The joint statement reaffirms the common goals of nuclear non-proliferation, nuclear disarmament and peaceful uses of nuclear energy and recognizes that nuclear security contributes to international peace and security.

National statements delivered messages on achievements in nuclear security since the last ICONS conference in 2020 and supported the central role of the IAEA in assisting Member States, upon request, in establishing and improving effective and sustainable national nuclear security regimes, including through guidance development, peer review and advisory services and capacity building.

“Our attendance at ICONS, a key event for our global nuclear security community, signals our shared commitment to strengthening nuclear security,” said Assistant Minister Watts. “It provides an opportunity for us to progress aligned commitments and priorities and to work closely on our respective national nuclear security regimes.”

“Despite some risks and challenges — from climate change and natural disasters to global pandemics — AI products and advanced computing technologies offer new opportunities to strengthen nuclear security regimes,” said Vice-Minister Yessimkhanov. “Strengthening national nuclear security regimes helps to prevent the illicit trafficking of nuclear and radioactive material.”

About the International Conference on Nuclear Security

Over 2000 participants from more than 130 IAEA Member States and organizations are gathering for the International Conference on Nuclear Security: Shaping the Future (ICONS2024). It follows earlier high-level IAEA nuclear security conferences held in 2013, 2016 and 2020. The conference covers topics including policy, law and regulations for nuclear security; technology and infrastructure for nuclear security prevention, detection and response; capacity building for nuclear security, as well as other cross-cutting nuclear security topics.

Since the ICONS 2020 conference (February 2020), the IAEA has expanded its nuclear security work. A Nuclear Security Training and Demonstration Centre was inaugurated in October 2023, and 28 events have already been held in this the first international training centre on nuclear security. The Agency has provided support to 22 major public events, including the 28th United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP) held in Dubai in December 2023 and the Africa Cup of Nations held in Cote D’Ivoire in January 2024.

The Agency yesterday also released the 2024 Factsheet for the IAEA Incident and Trafficking Database (ITDB), citing 168 incidents reported by 31 States in 2023. A total of 4243 incidents of illegal or unauthorized activities involving nuclear and other radioactive material have been reported since 1993.

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