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Statement at UN Secretary General's High-Level Meeting On Countering Nuclear Terrorism

New York, USA

Secretary-General, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to begin by thanking you, Secretary-General, for taking the initiative to convene this important conference.

The threat of nuclear terrorism has not diminished. Although much progress has been made in recent years in countering it, more needs to be done.

Primary responsibility for ensuring nuclear security lies with national governments, but international cooperation is vital.

The importance of the IAEA's role in helping countries to improve nuclear security has been recognised by the United Nations General Assembly, most recently in resolution 65/74 on preventing the acquisition by terrorists of radioactive sources.

Our central role reflects the Agency's extensive membership, our mandate, our unique technical expertise and our long experience of providing specialist, practical guidance to countries. No other organization offers these advantages.

Heads of state and government recognised the Agency's role at the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul in March this year.

Last week, the IAEA General Conference - the annual gathering of our 155 Member States - adopted a resolution in which it reaffirmed "the central role of the Agency in ensuring coordination of international activities in the field of nuclear security, while avoiding duplication and overlap."

To put it simply, our work focuses on helping to minimize the risk of nuclear and other radioactive material falling into the hands of terrorists, or of nuclear facilities being subjected to malicious acts.

The IAEA has established internationally accepted guidance that is used as a benchmark for nuclear security. We help countries to apply this guidance through expert peer review missions, specialist training and human resource development programmes.

The Agency helps countries to put laws and regulatory infrastructure in place to protect nuclear and other radioactive material. We provide guidance to States on how to implement their international obligations in this area.

One area where more action is urgently needed is the ratification of the Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials. The Amendment was agreed in 2005 but has still not entered into force.

The original Convention covers only the physical protection of nuclear material in international transport. The Amendment would expand its coverage to include the protection of nuclear material in domestic use, storage and transport, and the protection of nuclear facilities against acts of sabotage.

Entry into force of the Amendment would make an important difference to global nuclear security by enhancing national security frameworks and international cooperation.

The IAEA also helps countries to strengthen physical security at nuclear, industrial or medical facilities where nuclear or other radioactive material is stored, or while it is being transported. This may involve things like establishing better access control and alarm systems.

We make it more difficult for criminals and terrorists to traffic nuclear and radioactive material across borders by providing detection equipment at border crossings and training border guards. In the past ten years, we have trained over 12 000 people in more than 120 countries in nuclear security.

We have helped to ensure that radioactive sources which were not properly secured were transported either to a safe and secure national storage facility, or repatriated to their country of origin. We have also helped countries to put a considerable amount of high enriched uranium into more secure storage.

Information is key to identifying trends and patterns of threats in nuclear security, analysing weaknesses in States' security systems, and determining the appropriate response.

One hundred and seventeen countries now contribute information to the IAEA's Illicit Trafficking Database, which monitors thefts and other unauthorised activities involving nuclear and radioactive materials. The Database is the most authoritative global source of information on illicit trafficking.

More than 2 200 incidents have been registered since the Database was established in 1995. Most of these are fairly minor, but some are more serious. Taken together, they show that much work is needed and that we must never become complacent.

One of the key risks we face is that terrorists could detonate a so-called dirty bomb, using conventional explosives and a quantity of nuclear or other radioactive material, to contaminate a major city.

This would not be a fully-fledged "nuclear bomb." But such an attack could lead to mass panic and cause considerable economic disruption. We must therefore maintain the utmost vigilance in protecting nuclear and other radioactive material and nuclear facilities.

The Fukushima Daiichi accident last year reminded us of the important connection between nuclear safety and nuclear security.

Perhaps I should explain the distinction: nuclear safety is about guarding against accidents when nuclear technology is being used and ensuring the least possible risk to human health and the environment. Nuclear security is about protecting nuclear material and facilities against malicious acts by terrorists and other criminals, with the same ultimate goal of protecting the public and the environment.

Implementing effective safety measures at nuclear plants also helps to protect them against sabotage. This means that safety measures and security measures must be designed and implemented in a synergistic manner.

This year, I established a Nuclear Security Guidance Committee in which all IAEA Member States can participate.

The Committee has already agreed a new document on Objective and Essential Elements of a State's Nuclear Security Regime. It was endorsed by our Board of Governors two weeks ago. I encourage all countries to review their current arrangements in the light of this document.

We are presently working with many of you to establish global networks of Nuclear Security Support Centres and Centres of Excellence to improve nuclear security.

Secretary-General, Ladies and Gentlemen,

In July next year, the IAEA will organize an International Conference on Nuclear Security: Enhancing Global Efforts, which will take place in Vienna.

The Conference will bring together ministers, senior policymakers and technical experts from all areas of nuclear security. They will seek to build on the achievements of the last 10 years in our collective efforts to prevent nuclear and other radioactive material from falling into the wrong hands.

The Conference is open to all States and I urge all countries to take part.

Terrorists will exploit the weakest link in any security system. The challenge is global, so the response must be global. Continued shortcomings in nuclear security need to be addressed urgently.

The IAEA has global reach and has been making a significant contribution in nuclear security for more than 10 years. Strengthening our activities in this area will remain one of the Agency's key priorities.

The IAEA is committed to intensifying cooperation with all of you in this room to help make the world safer from nuclear terrorism.

Thank you.


Last update: 25 Nov 2019

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