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Summary of Report on Protection Against Nuclear Terrorism, presented to the IAEA Board of Governors on 30 November 2001

Theft of a nuclear weapon

The report states that responsibility for preventing the theft of a nuclear weapon lies with the States that possess nuclear weapons. The IAEA urges these States to urgently revisit current security and organizational arrangements to ensure that all necessary measures are in place to meet possible threats. The report offers IAEA services to provide advice on matters related to safety and physical protection.

Acquisition of nuclear material

The report indicates that nuclear material is subject to national protection measures, though these appear to be uneven in their substance and/or application. In recent years States have confirmed to the Agency some 175 cases of illicit trafficking involving nuclear materials. "While only a few of these cases involved significant amounts of nuclear material," the report says, "they demonstrate that security is still inadequate at certain locations and that there is an urgent need for improved protection and control."

As a first priority, the IAEA plans to increase the number and scope of its International Physical Protection Advisory Service (IPPAS) missions as well as its workshops designed to help States to assess possible threats to nuclear activities. The Agency also proposes to expand its programme aimed at increasing the capabilities of Member States to detect and respond to theft, illicit trafficking, and other malicious use or threatened use of nuclear material and other radioactive materials.

According to the report, there are currently no comprehensive binding international standards for the physical protection of nuclear material. As an urgent measure, the IAEA is seeking to broaden the scope of the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material to cover the security of additional activities and is convening a group of international experts in December to work on an amendment.

The report says the IAEA also plans to strengthen its assistance to States in improving their systems of nuclear material accountancy and control. "If a terrorist were to acquire nuclear material, a good system of nuclear material accounting and control, reinforced by IAEA safeguards, could help determine the origin of any missing material as well as to identify individuals who had access to it," the report says.

Acquisition of other radioactive material

The report notes that there is lax security of radioactive sources in some States. As a consequence of this, an undetermined number of sources have become "orphaned" from regulatory control, and their location is unknown.

While the IAEA has developed important international standards for radiation protection, these contain general, but no detailed, requirements on the security of radiation sources.

To increase the protection of radiation sources, the IAEA proposes a number of measures to strengthen regulatory control and to update its standards and expand programmes in respect to terrorism threats.

Nuclear facilities

The report says the robustness of nuclear power plants and other nuclear facilities (such as fuel fabrication, enrichment, reprocessing and waste management plants, and research reactors) against acts of sabotage and other acts of extreme violence varies from country to country and from facility to facility. Agency assessments of facility design and operational measures can contribute to preventing and/or mitigating the impact of malicious acts. Meanwhile, the Agency is revising safety standards related to the safe construction and operation of nuclear facilities.

To improve the security of nuclear installations, the Agency proposes to expand significantly its current programme to help States to undertake facility specific assessments, implement safety related upgrades, and review guidance on the safety of facilities against external and internal acts of violence.

Emergency response

The IAEA has the only international response system in place that would be in a position to immediately react to assist countries in the event of a radiological emergency caused by a nuclear terrorist threat. The Agency proposes to upgrade its Emergency Response Centre to improve the speed, efficiency, reliability and quality of the response in the event of a large radiological emergency.

The IAEA will offer its Emergency Preparedness Review Service for the comprehensive appraisal of national emergency response programmes in Member States. It can provide training to increase a State's capability to respond effectively to the possible consequences of a radiological emergency. The report also proposes to establish international response standby teams that could be promptly dispatched to States in need of urgent assistance.


Last update: 26 July 2017