Conference To Tackle Nuclear Trafficking Threat

VIENNA, Austria, May 2, 2001 (ENS) - The threat of illicit trafficking in nuclear materials and radioactive sources will bring more than 300 officials from over 70 countries to Stockholm next week.

The Swedish government and the Vienna based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will co-host a conference from May 7 to 11, entitled "Security of Material, Measures to Prevent, Intercept and Respond to Illicit Uses of Nuclear Material and Radioactive Sources."

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Vienna International Center along the Danube River, home of the IAEA. (Photo courtesy Pavlicek/IAEA)
Among those in attendance will be representatives of the World Customs Organization, the International Criminal Police Organization - Interpol, and the European Police Office.

They will discuss ways to strengthen international security against terrorists and look at measures to prevent the unauthorized removal and movement of nuclear materials and critical equipment.

"The potential for the smuggling of large quantities of weapons usable material may be low," said IAEA director general Mohamed ElBaradei.

"However, even trafficking of small quantities of such material deserves full attention in the context of non-proliferation, since quantities of nuclear material of strategic value could be accumulated.

"Trafficking involving other radioactive materials does not pose a proliferation threat, but can cause, and has resulted in, serious radiation exposure to individuals."

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IAEA director general Mohamed ElBaradei. (Photo courtesy IAEA)
Some of those cases have been documented by the Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California.

The Center's Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Terrorism Project closely monitors the news media for reports of terrorist or criminal incidents involving the acquisition and/or use of chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear materials.

After reviewing more than 280,000 media reports during 2000, staff documented 181 "relevant" incidents. Fifty eight were hoaxes. Here is a sample of the 123 that were not:

In its conclusions, CNS staff said 2000 saw a slight increase over 1999 in incidents involving chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear material (CBRN). Of 1999's 175 cases, 99 were hoaxes.

"This total shows a continuing steep rise in frequency of CBRN incidents since 1998, when the number of incidents rose to 153 after an average of 42 incidents from 1995 to 1997," said the center's terrorism project report.

It went on to note, "The most dramatic development in 2000 was a sharp rise in the number of incidents of actual CBRN use... The 93 cases where agents were used represent a 138 percent increase from 1999 and constitute the largest event category in 2000.

"The increase in the number of casualties was even more impressive, rising from 366 (with four fatalities) in 1999 to at least 782 casualties (and 144 fatalities) in 2000."

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Flags of some of the 130 IAEA member states. (Photo courtesy Calma/IAEA)
Many countries have been trying to develop better means of combating illicit trafficking threats. The IAEA's annual conference has in yearly resolutions since 1994 underlined the need for more action in this area.

Delegates at next week's conference in the Swedish capital will focus on closer cooperation between countries and with law enforcement authorities and intelligence agencies.

Some 130 countries belong to the IAEA, which serves as the world's central inter-governmental forum for scientific and technical cooperation in the nuclear field. The agency has conducted two international conferences on the same topic.

The first was the November 1997 International Conference on Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials: Experience in Regulation, Implementation and Operations, and the other was the International Conference on the Safety of Radiation Sources and the Security of Radioactive Materials held in Dijon, France, in September 1998.

To read more about the IAEA and next week's conference, click here.

To read more about the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, click here.