Doug Bedell — October 7, 2008, 9:52 am

Illicit Nuclear Materials a Present Threat Somewhere

We provide this release from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) not because its subject – nuclear terrorism – is a workaday threat at most locations, but because security officials need to be mindful that the explosion of nuclear materials is a present danger for someone, somewhere in the world. Alertness is key.

In updating its Illicit Trafficking Database (ITDB) through 2007, IAEA said the likelihood that terrorists will detonate a nuclear weapon poses the greatest risk to world security, surpassing proliferation threats from Iran and North Korea.

“There is a lot of interest on the part of extremist groups to obtain nuclear material,” Mohamed ElBaradei, the IAEA’s director-general, said at a scientific forum in Vienna during the annual conference of the 145 nations in the IAEA. “It’s the No. 1 security threat right now.”

The threat may not be as much from a full-scale nuclear explosion as from the detonation of nuclear materials in a “dirty bomb” that could spread radioactive contamination and panic. 

The IAEA’s new fact sheet on its trafficking database states that during 2004-2007, “the share of incidents with un-recovered (nuclear) materials has increased to about 75 percent. Un-recovered materials include Category 2 and 3 high-risk ‘dangerous’ radioactive sources, which may present considerable radiological danger if used in a malicious act.” 

The Bloomberg News summary of the IAEA report advises that “the IAEA has recorded 18 attempts to sell bomb-grade uranium and plutonium to black-market intermediaries since 1993. During the same period, the agency has tracked more than 1,300 incidents involving less-potent nuclear material that may be used to spread radioactive contamination.”

Not great news, but important to add to our database of security concerns.

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