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IAEA Chief Warns of Terrorist Access to Nuclear Material

International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano on Thursday said his organization receives new information nearly every other day regarding smuggling of nuclear and radioactive materials, Asian News International reported (see GSN, Dec. 8, 2010).

The U.N. nuclear watchdog director general attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he warned that Iran and North Korea should not be the sole focus of nuclear proliferation fears, according to Fox News.

"Another risk is nuclear material falling into the hands of terrorists," Amano said. "Some people do not believe this is a real risk. But the IAEA has a database and, on average, every two days we receive information about the illicit trafficking of nuclear materials or radioactive materials and this may only be the tip of the iceberg."

The IAEA head did not single out any geographical area as a locus point for nuclear trafficking but said extremists would seek to acquire atomic materials wherever security is the weakest.

"Nowadays, with the current level of world technology, terrorists can make nuclear weapons -- well, dirty bombs, at least," he said.

A radiological "dirty bomb" would employ conventional explosives to disperse nuclear matter over a wide area. While not nearly as lethal as a nuclear bomb, the potential use of such an improvised weapon is considered a serious threat by analysts.

In November, Georgian officials declared they had arrested four individuals in the capital city of Tbilisi for allegedly trying to sell an unidentified quantity of cesium 137, which could be used to build a radiological weapon. Earlier in the year, Georgian officials announced that two Armenian men had admitted to trying to sell less than 1 ounce of weapon-grade uranium they had smuggled into the country (see GSN, Nov. 22, 2010; Asian News International/Oneindia.com, Jan. 28).

Meanwhile, the regular disappearance of radioactive matter from multiple civilian and military installations in India is causing serious alarm to IAEA officials and U.S. nuclear specialists, the Daily Mail reported on Friday (see GSN, Jan. 19).

In the last decade, there have been 16 "unusual occurrences" of atomic material being stolen or going missing in the nuclear-armed South Asian nation, according to a yearly report by India's Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. In only five of those cases was the radioactive material recovered.

This month, radioactive isotopes filched from a state-owned steel production facility in the Durgapur district were located abandoned in a public restroom in a nearby neighborhood. Indian authorities arrested one scrap merchant on a pilfering charge. In 2010, a New Delhi scrap merchant died after he was exposed to cobalt 60. Several other people were sickened by exposure to the radioactive waste that was determined to have originated from a nearby university (Palmer/Mehta, Daily Mail, Jan. 28).

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