This post was written by Madison Estes, an intern with NTI’s Materials Risk Management program. Madison is a graduate of the University of Texas with a major in International Relations & Global Studies, and she has a master’s degree in Non-Proliferation and International Security from King’s College London.
Considerably more widespread than nuclear materials, radioactive sources used for medical, industrial, agricultural, research and other purposes can be found at thousands of sites across more than 150 countries. Due to their diverse physical properties, applications and operating environments—and the possibility that they can be stolen and used to build radioactive “dirty bombs”— radioactive sources used for beneficial reasons also present a complex security challenge for the organizations and businesses that use them, as well as for governments.
Each year, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) records dozens of incidents in which radioactive materials have been recovered from outside of regulatory control. The IAEA’s Incident and Trafficking Database reports incidents of sources being stolen by insiders and external adversaries for reasons that have included revenge, disgruntlement, and financial gain. Sources also have been trafficked across international borders by criminal networks and others. Experts believe it is only a matter of time before a radiological source is used by a terrorist organization to build a bomb that could cause enormous damage and terrorize a city.
To address the threat, NTI and the Moscow-based Center for Energy and Security Studies (CENESS), in cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Government of Canada, and the Republic of Kyrgyzstan, recently hosted a two-day workshop in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan focused on strengthening radiological security in Central Asia.
Workshop participants explored opportunities to improve radiological source security in Central Asia by:
- Identifying priorities to eliminate,
secure, or replace the most vulnerable radioactive sources in the region – and
to bolster national and regional capabilities (equipment, training, capacity)
to deter, detect, and interdict illicit trafficking of such sources throughout
awareness of work being done by regional governments in Central Asia on
radiological prevention and detection;
awareness of regional work being done by international partners on radiological
prevention and detection;
- Enhancing awareness of opportunities
for collaboration on projects with other Central Asian Republics or
international partners; and
- Establishing an enduring regional
model for future cooperation and assistance for radiological risk management
efforts in this region.
Held in the village of Koi-Tash, a rural community nestled in the Tian Shan mountains on the outskirts of the capital city, the workshop brought together more than 70 stakeholders representing all five of the Central Asian republics as well as representatives from the IAEA, Canada, the United States, the Russian Federation, the Eurasian Economic Commission, and other institutions and organizations.