NTI Co-Hosts Second Regional Workshop on Radiological Security in Central Asia

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 the region;
  • Enhancing awareness of work being done by regional governments in Central Asia on radiological prevention and detection;
  • Enhancing 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. 

The group also was diverse in expertise, with experts in both radiological source security and the prevention of illicit trafficking of nuclear and radiological materials.

The convening of these two separate but linked communities, as well as international partners and relevant organizations, is a model that NTI introduced the previous year at the first regional workshop held in Astana, Kazakhstan. Bridging these groups is critical to mitigating the threat of a radiological “dirty bomb” as it allows for interactions between parties that do not routinely meet, thereby increasing capacity for coordination and building a more comprehensive security strategy within and between governments.

“This model not only enhances awareness of work being done by regional governments and international partners in Central Asia, but it also provides unique opportunities for collaboration and donor assistance,” said NTI Senior Consultant Ioanna Iliopulos. “I learned more from the two-day NTI-CENESS workshop on national and collective radiological and security prevention and detections efforts underway in Central Asia than from my bilateral engagement in this region that spanned over 10 years.”

NTI believes that this workshop model is replicable and sustainable at the regional level and also at the international level, as demonstrated by plans for the “International Conference on the Security of Radioactive Material: The Way Forward for Prevention and Detection” to be hosted in December 2018 by the IAEA in Vienna. Participants at the Bishkek workshop were strongly encouraged to continue the conversations and work initiated in Kyrgyzstan by attending the IAEA conference in December.

Addressing the security of radioactive sources in Central Asia also presents an opportunity for U.S.-Russia cooperation on an issue of mutual interest. “Finding areas of common ground and creating fora for U.S. and Russian representatives to have a dialogue on those areas is a common-sense approach to rebuilding trust and renewing cooperative engagement between the United States and Russia,” said NTI’s Leon Ratz, who helped organize the Astana and Bishkek workshops. “This workshop demonstrated that such an approach is not only viable, it can also yield productive results for all involved parties.”

For more information on NTI’s work to address radiological threats visit: https://www.nti.org/about/radiological/

NTI gratefully acknowledges financial support from the Government of Canada for this workshop. 


July 10, 2018

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