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Remarks at Vienna Centre for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation

Vienna, Austria

IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano at the event on Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material hosted by the Vienna Centre for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation. (Photo D. Calma/IAEA)

Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I am very pleased that the Vienna Centre for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation is hosting this event on the Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material.

This is the most important area of unfinished business in nuclear security. The Amendment was adopted more than 10 years ago, but it has still not entered into force because not enough countries have adhered to it.

Why does this matter? For a number of reasons.

The Amendment makes it legally binding for countries to protect nuclear facilities, as well as nuclear material in domestic use, storage and transport. It provides for expanded cooperation among countries on locating and recovering stolen or smuggled nuclear material.

It also requires States to minimise any radiological consequences of sabotage, and to prevent and combat related offences.

So, entry into force would reduce the likelihood of terrorists being able to detonate a radioactive dispersal device, otherwise known as a “dirty bomb.”

It would also reduce the risk of a terrorist attack on a nuclear power plant that could create a release of radioactivity.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The fact that there has never been a major terrorist attack involving nuclear or other radioactive material should not blind us to the possibility that such an attack could happen.   

The amount of nuclear material in peaceful uses in the world has risen by 70 percent since 1999. It will continue to grow in the coming decades as global use of nuclear power increases.

Nearly 2,800 incidents involving radioactive material going out of regulatory control have been reported to the IAEA by Member States since 1995. 

Only a handful of these incidents involved material that could be used to make a nuclear explosive device. But some of the material that goes missing could be combined with conventional explosives to create a dirty bomb. This could cause deaths and injuries, contaminate a large urban area and lead to mass panic.

This is why the Amendment is so important.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material is the first, and only, international legally binding undertaking on the physical protection of nuclear material used for peaceful purposes.

It entered into force in 1987. But it focussed only on the international transport of nuclear material and did not cover the protection of nuclear facilities.

The terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001 prompted a re-evaluation of the risks of terrorism in all its forms. States decided to expand the scope of the Convention and adopted the Amendment, here in Vienna, in July 2005.

Protecting nuclear material is not just an issue for countries with nuclear power programmes.

Traffickers could seek to transport such material through any country in the world. In fact, they have a natural tendency to target the weakest link in any security chain.

So it is essential that all countries criminalise nuclear trafficking and related activities and take the necessary preventive and response measures. These are among the things that the Amendment would require them to do.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Nuclear security is a national responsibility. But the threats we face transcend borders and effective international coordination is vital.

The IAEA, with 167 Member States, plays the central role in helping the world act in unison against nuclear terrorism.

The Agency has worked hard in the last few years to encourage countries to adhere to the Amendment to the CPPNM. I constantly raise the issue in my meetings with government leaders – most recently during visits to six countries in Central America a few weeks ago.

The good news is that we now have real momentum and entry into force appears to be finally within reach.

Cote d’Ivoire recently deposited its instrument of ratification, which means that adherence by just 11 countries is needed for the Amendment to enter into force. I hope that can happen this year.

As we move towards the next IAEA International Conference on Nuclear Security in December this year, I ask all countries that have not yet done so to adhere to this important nuclear security instrument as a matter of urgency.

Thank you.

Last update: 25 Nov 2019

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