Nuclear terrorism seen as threat despite security progress; U.S. says al Qaeda tried for years to get nuclear material
Published Monday, July 01, 2013
More action is needed to stopmilitants aquiring plutonium or highly-enriched uranium thatcould be used for atomic bombs, nuclear experts and governmentofficials said on Monday.
Speaking at a meeting in Vienna, Yukiya Amano, head of theInternational Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), warned against a”false sense of security” over the danger of nuclear terrorism.
Amano, holding up a small lead container that was used totry to traffic highly enriched uranium in the former Sovietrepublic of Moldova two years ago, said it showed a “worryinglevel of knowledge on the part of the smugglers”.
“This case ended well,” he said. “Unfortunately, we cannotbe sure if such cases are just the tip of the iceberg.”
Analysts say radical groups could theoretically build acrude but deadly nuclear bomb if they have the money, technicalknowledge and the amount of fissile material needed.
Many states have taken steps to prevent malicious acts suchas nuclear theft and sabotage, Amano told the delegates.
“Partly as a result of these efforts, there has not been aterrorist attack involving nuclear or other radioactivematerial,” Amano said. “But this must not lull us into a falsesense of security.”
Obtaining weapons-grade fissile material – highly enricheduranium or plutonium – poses the biggest challenge for militantgroups, so keeping it secure is vital, both at civilian andmilitary facilities, experts say.
An apple-sized amount of plutonium in a nuclear device anddetonated in a highly populated area could instantly kill orwound hundreds of thousands of people, according to the NuclearSecurity Governance Experts Group (NSGEG)lobby group.
Because radioactive material is seen as less hard to findand the device easier to manufacture, experts say a so-called”dirty bomb” is a more likely threat than a nuclear bomb.
In a dirty bomb, conventional explosives are used todisperse radiation from a radioactive source, which can be foundin hospitals or other places not very well protected.
U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz repeated Washington’sassertion that al Qaeda had been trying for years to obtainnuclear material for a weapon.
“Despite the strides we have made in dismantling core alQaeda we should expect its adherents…to continue trying toachieve their nuclear ambitions,” he said.
More than a hundred incidents of thefts and otherunauthorised activities involving nuclear and radioactivematerial are reported to the IAEA every year, Amano said.
“Some material goes missing and is never found,” he said.
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