Nuclear terrorism top of IAEA conference agenda

1 July 2013
By Tereza Pultarova
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Lebanese customs officers practice radiation detection techniques during a training session

Lebanese customs officers practice radiation detection techniques during a training session [Credit: Lebanese Customs Administration]

The International Conference on Nuclear Security is underway in Vienna, with experts maintaining that more action is needed to prevent militant groups from acquiring nuclear material.

Speaking during the event, Yukiya Amano, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said illegal trafficking of enriched uranium is a serious threat and the cases intercepted by the international authorities are likely to be the tip of the iceberg.

"Some material goes missing and is never found," Amano said, adding that over 100 incidences of thefts and other unauthorised activities involving nuclear and radioactive material are reported to the IAEA every year.

The experts have warned that despite the fact that there has as yet been no terrorist attack involving a nuclear bomb, some radical groups could be able to build crude but dangerous nuclear bombs if they have enough technical knowledge, the necessary amount of fissile material and sufficient budget.

"Taking action now to help prevent an incident occurring, and to limit the consequences if an incident were to happen, is clearly a necessary and a very worthwhile investment,” Amano said. “I believe that this conference will help in our continuing efforts to ensure that no terrorist attack ever succeeds."

The possibility of a so called ‘dirty bomb’ being created by some terrorist groups was discussed as the most likely scenario. Dirty bombs use radioactive material combined with conventional explosives that serve as a means to disperse radiation into the environment.

The amount of nuclear material required to construct a dirty bomb is small compared with the conventional nuclear weapon and it doesn’t require such advanced technical skills.

The results of the conference, attended by 1,300 participants from 123 states and 21 non-governmental institutions, will also serve as a basis for the preparation of the IAEA's next Nuclear Security Plan, outlining security measures regarding storage, transport and use of nuclear material for military and civilian purposes.

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