7 Sep (NucNet): Countries must take the threat of nuclear terrorism seriously by ensuring that amendments to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) that oblige countries to protect nuclear facilities such as nuclear stations enter into force as soon as possible, International Atomic Energy Agency director-general Yukiya Amano has said.
Writing on the Project Syndicate website, Mr Amano said amendments to the 1987 CPPNM that would make it harder for terrorists to obtain nuclear material have yet to enter into force. The resulting vulnerability “needs to be addressed urgently”, he said.
In July 2005, signatories to the CPPNM agreed to amend it to address the risk of terrorism more effectively. The new measures would make it more difficult for terrorists to cause a widespread release of radioactive material by attacking a nuclear power station or detonating a radioactive dispersal device – commonly known as a dirty bomb.
But before the amendment can enter into force, two-thirds of the 152 signatories to the original CPPNM must ratify it. While significant progress has been made – in July, the US, Italy, and Turkey did so – at least 14 more countries are needed.
The original Convention focused only on the international transport of nuclear material, and did not cover the protection of nuclear facilities.
The amendment adopted 10 years ago would oblige countries to protect nuclear facilities and any nuclear material used, stored, or transported domestically. It would expand cooperation on locating and recovering stolen or smuggled nuclear material and coordinate the response to any attack on a nuclear facility. It would also make nuclear trafficking a criminal offence and require signatories to cooperate on improving national systems of physical protection and minimising the consequences of sabotage.
Mr Amano said the fact that there has never been a major terrorist attack involving nuclear or other radioactive material “should not blind us to the severity of the threat”. He said: “There is evidence that terrorist groups have tried to acquire the material needed to construct a crude nuclear explosive device, or a dirty bomb.”
The amount of nuclear material in the world is increasing, he said. Since 1999, the amount of such material being used for peaceful purposes has increased by 70 percent – a trend that will continue as the use of nuclear power grows. “It is essential that effective measures are in place to ensure that these materials are not misused or misplaced, whether accidentally or intentionally.”
Since 1995, the IAEA’s member states have reported nearly 2,800 incidents involving radioactive material escaping regulatory control, Mr Amano said. Although only a handful of these incidents involved material that could be used to make a nuclear explosive device, a relatively small amount of radioactive material could be combined with conventional explosives to create a dirty bomb. Such a weapon could be capable of killing many people, contaminating large urban areas, and sparking mass panic.
Mr Amano said much has been achieved in the secure management of nuclear material since the attacks on the US in September 2001 prompted a renewed focus on the risks of terrorism. Many countries have instituted effective measures to prevent the theft, sabotage, or illegal transfer of nuclear or other radioactive material, and security at many nuclear facilities has been improved. “But much more needs to be done,” he said.
The article is online: http://bit.ly/1UwwFvV
The Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material was signed in Vienna and New York on 3 March 1980 and is the only international legally binding undertaking in the area of physical protection of nuclear material. It establishes measures related to the prevention, detection and punishment of offences relating to nuclear material.
A conference was held in July 2005 to amend the Convention and strengthen its provisions. The amended Convention makes it legally binding for signatories to protect nuclear facilities and material in peaceful domestic use, storage as well as transport. It also provides for expanded cooperation between and among states on measures to locate and recover stolen or smuggled nuclear material, mitigate any radiological consequences of sabotage, and prevent and combat related offences.
For more information: www.iaea.org/newscenter/focus/nuclearsecurity