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Working To Improve Nuclear Security Globally

Radioactive Material Tag

By Monday, the world's attention will focus on Seoul, Republic of Korea when over 50 heads of state and heads of international organizations gather to discuss nuclear security. Their aim is to increase international cooperation to better protect nuclear materials and facilities.

Nuclear and radioactive materials, though useful and beneficial in a many fields, ranging from manufacturing to medicine, could pose a danger to the environment and to the public if handled improperly.

Therefore states need to be vigilant about keeping these materials and associated facilities safe and secure from those without the proper protection and expertise, and from those who would use these materials maliciously or sabotage such facilities.

The IAEA works closely with Member States to create and improve measures that are needed to control and protect these materials.

"On-going international cooperation and support contribute to a 'nuclear security culture' that transcends borders and provides a common basis for understanding and action at local, regional and global levels. The threat is global and the response must be global," says Khammar Mrabit, Director of the IAEA Office of Nuclear Security.

The IAEA defines nuclear security as "the means and ways of preventing, detecting, and responding to sabotage, theft, and unauthorized access to or illegal transfer of nuclear material and other radioactive substances, as well as their associated facilities".

By offering training, providing technical advice and advisory services, delivering equipment and issuing guidance and standards, providing education and training, coordinated research and development on improving nuclear security, the IAEA helps countries prevent, detect and respond to criminal or unauthorized acts involving nuclear or radiological material.

IAEA experts help states protect nuclear facilities and transport against sabotage or theft. The Agency coordinates support and funding to strengthen and upgrade security at nuclear facilities and in protecting nuclear and other radioactive material in use, storage and in transport. To close any gaps in these defences, the IAEA offers states education and specialised training, helps intensify cooperation between law enforcement officials and supports the installation of radiological monitoring equipment and training at border crossings.

Incidents and Emergencies

Should a nuclear security incident occur or a nuclear or radiation emergency arise, the IAEA's Vienna-based Incident and Emergency Centre (IEC) coordinates 24/7 specialized support and assistance for Member States.

Securing Major Events

Member States have called upon the IAEA to assist them in effectively securing major public events against radiological threats, including: the Olympic Games (Greece 2004, China 2008), the Pan American Games (Brazil 2007), World Cup competitions (Germany 2006, South Africa 2010), and the UEFA EURO 2012 football championship (Poland).

Repatriating Highly Enriched Uranium

Since 2002 the IAEA has also helped repatriate 1600 kg of highly enriched uranium (HEU) research reactor fuel to their countries of origin. One of the most notable instances was the repatriation of HEU from the Vinča Institute of Nuclear Sciences in Serbia back to Russia. This was the largest shipment of spent fuel ever removed as part of the international programme to repatriate research reactor fuel.

Illicit Trafficking Database

In addition, the Agency's Illicit Trafficking Database, with 113 participating states, is the most authoritative source of information in its field and tracks trafficking and unauthorized incidents involving nuclear and other radioactive materials, including highly enriched uranium.

Dirty Bombs

Certain industrial and medical radioactive sources such as cobalt-60, caesium-137, strontium-90, and iridium-192, emit high levels of radiation. These sources are carefully monitored and protected to prevent their misuse as so-called "dirty bombs" or radiation dispersal devices. Such a bomb uses conventional explosives to spread radioactive material that causes injuries and creates social disruption through the evacuation, the subsequent clean-up of contaminated property and the associated economic costs.

-- By Sasha Henriques, IAEA Division of Public Information


(Note to Media: We encourage you to republish these stories and kindly request attribution to the IAEA).