Ensuring Nuclear Safety & Security

By ElBaradei, Mohamed | Presidents & Prime Ministers, May 2001 | Go to article overview

Ensuring Nuclear Safety & Security


ElBaradei, Mohamed, Presidents & Prime Ministers


From the earliest days of discovery and experimentation with nuclear science, nuclear and radioactive materials have held extraordinary potential--the potential for being of great benefit to humankind, as well as for causing significant harm. For the past 44 years, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has played an important role in ensuring that nuclear technologies and materials are used only for peaceful purposes--in producing nuclear energy, and in helping to fight disease, enhance agricultural production, manage water resources and monitor the environment. At the same time, the agency's safeguards program has been providing assurances that international undertakings to use nuclear facilities and materials for peaceful purposes are being honored.

An area of recent focus for the agency has been the prevention of illicit trafficking in nuclear and radioactive material. In the wake of the Cold War, the smuggling of these materials has emerged as a real and dangerous threat. Since 1993, over 370 cases of illicit trafficking have been confirmed. While most of these incidents do not involve material that can be used for making nuclear weapons, the high number of events shows that we have reason to be concerned. In response, the international community, working through the agency and through bilateral assistance, has stepped up efforts to prevent unauthorized uses of or trafficking n nuclear material and other radioactive sources.

For any state, the first step in ensuring the security of their materials is an effective national system of control. Such a system must contain multiple elements, including physical protection measures, material accountability arrangements, reliable detection capabilities and plans for rapid and effective response when material is found to be lost, stolen or otherwise not under proper control. The system must also cover illegal waste dumping and other activities that result in the release of radioactive material. All these measures should be based on well-founded legal and regulatory structures. In many cases, the responsibility for these various elements lies with different bodies, and cooperation between them is vital to the success of the national system.

For many states, some of the elements of a viable national system for the security of nuclear and radioactive material already exist. They may be in place as part of the state's safeguards undertakings, or as a result of the state's being party to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material. Where already in place, these elements can work together to serve multiple purposes, thereby leveraging the resources devoted by the state to security measures. In other words, where the state already has a safeguards system in place, the efforts to combat illicit trafficking should be integrated into this overall system.

The International Atomic Energy Agency can be of service to a state that is seeking to upgrade its security measures for nuclear and radioactive material--through the transfer of technology, exchange of information, assistance and training in the implementation of internationally accepted standards and help with regional cooperation. …

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