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Introductory Remarks at the Global Threat Reduction Initiative Partners Conference (GTRI)

Vienna, Austria

Vienna, Austria
Global Threat Reduction Initiative Partners Conference

by IAEA Director General Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei

The security of nuclear and other radioactive material has taken on dramatically heightened significance in recent years, due to a number of factors: first, the increasing awareness that nuclear weapons related "know-how" is no longer confined to a relatively few countries; second, the uncovering of an illicit procurement network capable of supplying nuclear designs and equipment; and third, the rise of extremist groups that have demonstrated an interest in obtaining and using nuclear and radiological weapons.

Against this background, the need to protect nuclear material and facilities, and to control nuclear material and radioactive sources, has become an ever more global priority.

The IAEA has been active in the field of nuclear security for many years, but the urgency and scope of our efforts underwent a "sea-change" in the months following September 2001. International cooperation has become the hallmark of these security efforts. While nuclear security is and should remain a national responsibility, many countries still lack the programmes and the resources to respond properly to the threat of nuclear and radiological terrorism. International efforts are focused both on assisting these countries in strengthening their programmes, and on building global networks for combating cross-border threats.

Therefore, in many ways, the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) that Secretary Abraham and Minister Rumyantsev are championing is a natural continuation and extension of initiatives which the IAEA — together with many of its Member States — has been vigorously pursuing. We have had some significant successes already, and I hope we can build on those and forge ahead in a way that serves the interests of all States — by ensuring the continued availability of peaceful nuclear technologies, in recognition of the benefits they provide in many areas of sustainable development, but at the same time ensuring that these nuclear activities are conducted in a secure and safe manner. GTRI will supplement and augment these efforts.

To make clear how the scope of GTRI activities that Secretary Abraham and Minister Rumyantsev just laid out falls within the scope of the IAEA´s work, let me briefly characterize the Agency’s programme to assist States in enhancing nuclear security. The Agency’s work has three main points of focus: prevention, detection and response.

Our first objective is to assist States in preventing any illicit or non-peaceful use of nuclear or other radioactive materials — including acts of terrorism. This requires effective physical protection of nuclear materials in use, storage and transport, as well as protection of related nuclear facilities. It demands strong State programmes for accounting and control of nuclear material. It recognizes the benefits of the conversion of research reactors to use low enriched uranium — a process that requires substantial funding and, in some cases, the development of technological solutions — and the return of high enriched uranium from these research reactors to the countries of origin. And it necessitates the implementation of interim protection measures at vulnerable locations.

The second objective relates to detection — ensuring that we have systems in place that can help countries to identify, at an early stage, illicit activity related to nuclear materials or radioactive sources. To this end, we have been assisting countries in training customs officials, installing better equipment at border crossings, and creating networks of communication with national and international law enforcement organizations, to ensure that information can be shared effectively and rapidly, when required. The Agency also maintains a database on illicit trafficking in nuclear and radiological material, which can be helpful in identifying patterns of covert activity, and serves to demonstrate the existence of a market for obtaining and using radiological sources for malevolent purposes.

Third, we have been working with national governments and international organizations with the objective of ensuring that, in the event that illicit activity occurs — including emergencies involving acts of sabotage or acts of terrorism involving nuclear material or radioactive sources — we can respond rapidly and cooperatively. To date, most cases have involved helping governments with the recovery and securing of radioactive sources.

The most effective of these three areas of activity — prevention, detection and response — is obviously prevention, and it is appropriate that GTRI is largely focused in that arena.

To further optimize the effectiveness of these efforts, it will be important for efforts under GTRI to be prioritized by focusing on those facilities where the risk is greatest. But I would also stress the importance of making this a cooperative effort — working in "partnership" with the countries involved, and taking into full account their own assessment of priorities. It is noteworthy in this respect that many IAEA Member States have requested assistance in the nuclear security area through the Agency’s technical cooperation programme — and I would hope that the resources available through GTRI would increase the Agency’s ability to respond to these requests.

In all these efforts, it remains important to minimize the impact of new security measures on the many beneficial applications of nuclear technology — including research reactor applications and many uses of radioactive sources. For example, the denial of shipments of radioactive material can be a matter of significant concern — particularly when the shipments involve radionuclides intended for use in medical applications. While we should be strongly focused on ensuring the security of nuclear and other radioactive materials globally, we should equally seek comprehensive solutions that will ensure the continued delivery of the benefits that these materials and related applications provide in support of global development.

If GTRI and related initiatives are successful, we will achieve a meaningful reduction in our vulnerability to nuclear and radiological terrorism. I would like to take this opportunity to welcome and acknowledge the leadership and partnership of the United States, the Russian Federation and others on many of these fronts — and to highlight the leadership roles taken by Secretary Abraham and Minister Rumyantsev. If we continue to proceed as partners in these efforts, then this should truly be an investment in peace and security.

Last update: 16 Feb 2018

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