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Security aspects of nuclear facilities

With hundreds of nuclear power reactors, research reactors and fuel cycle facilities in operation worldwide, nuclear terrorism and other nuclear security threats demand continuous attention. The IAEA helps to ensure that measures are taken to control and protect nuclear facilities from such threats.

Nuclear security is defined as the prevention and detection of, and response to, theft, sabotage, unauthorized access, illegal transfer or other malicious acts involving nuclear material, other radioactive substances or their associated facilities.

With considerable amounts of nuclear and other radioactive material in transit and in storage, improved physical protection is an essential preventive measure against acts of theft and sabotage. Physical protection requires a mix of hardware (security devices), procedures (organization of guards and performance of their duties) and facility design (including layout).

An effective physical protection system takes into account the particular nuclear facility, the type of nuclear material used there and the threat, as well as the consequences (radiological and other), should prevention fail. A graded approach with increased levels of defence in place is central to the design of the physical protection system. Vulnerabilities at nuclear facilities can make them susceptible to malicious acts and create opportunities for terrorists or criminal groups.

The IAEA works to contribute to global efforts to achieve effective security wherever nuclear and other radioactive material is in use, stored or transported, as well as of the facilities associated with these activities. The Agency supports its Member States in their efforts to meet their national responsibilities and international obligations, to reduce risks and to respond appropriately to threats.

Upon request, the IAEA provides assistance in upgrading the physical protection of nuclear and other radioactive material and associated facilities. Upgrading of physical protection is required to ensure the effectiveness of physical protection systems against defined threats. These upgrades cover all major functions of the physical protection system, which are detection, delay and response. The Agency also offers training for specialist staff and assists with the transfer of know-how and expertise between Member States.