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U.K. Warns of Rise in Thefts of Atomic Materials

The United Kingdom on Thursday drew attention to a global rise in instances of misplaced or stolen atomic substances and urged all countries to be on constant watch to prevent terrorists from acquiring the materials necessary to launch a nuclear attack, the Press Association reported.

"Nuclear terrorism is a real and global threat. A successful attack, no matter where in the world it came, would be catastrophic," said British Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt at a multinational conference in London on the atomic danger. "Catastrophic for the immediate devastation and terrible loss of life, and for the far-reaching consequences -- psychological, economic, political and environmental.

"Such an attack was unthinkable just a generation ago," he continued. "But it is now a possibility we need to confront with the utmost vigilance."

From 1993 through 2011, the International Atomic Energy Agency documented 2,164 instances of atomic substances falling "outside state control." Those included 147 incidents in 2011, four of which dealt with quantities of weapon-grade uranium.

The minister declined to accuse specific foreign governments of aiding extremists in gaining access to sensitive know-how and atomic substances, though he did warn of the danger. "It wouldn't be right to identify individual nations who may be engaged in helping or assisting."

The British government responded to the nuclear terrorism danger to the Summer Olympics in London by fielding Cyclamen atomic substance detectors at sports venues, said Burt, who oversees the Foreign Office's counterproliferation and counterterrorism efforts. The Cyclamen system is also fielded at airports and seaports.

Newly developed technology for the Cyclamen system enables the detection of materials encased in special containers designed to contain radiation emissions, according to the London Independent.

The more sophisticated nuclear detectors are anticipated to be deployed at the country's airports and seaports.

"The point of this machine is that you would need so much lead to stop detection that no tires would be able to support a car or truck carrying it," an unidentified U.K. official told the newspaper. "It is a significant step forward in our ability to be able to prevent nuclear proliferation or a dirty bomb attack."

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