Sustainable Security of Radioactive Sources in Central Asia

This report, Sustainable Security of Radioactive Sources in Central Asia, by NTI's Laura S.H. Holgate and CENESS’s Anton Khlopkov, provides an overview of the IAEA categorization of radioactive isotopes, the co-chairs’ summary of the most recent regional workshop, and other workshop materials. NTI and CENESS encourage experts from the region to use these materials to sustain effective security of radioactive sources and as the basis for continued regional dialogue on these important issues.

Central Asia—bounded by the Russian Federation to its north; China to its east; Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan to its south; and the Caspian Sea to its west—is a region home to thousands of radioactive sources, including those used for medical, scientific, and industrial applications. Those sources include radioactive materials that are encapsulated in solid form and can range from iodine seeds used for internal radiotherapy treatment to industrial irradiators—weighing several tons—used for largescale sterilization at fixed facilities.

Radioactive sources can be found at hospitals in city centers, through which thousands of people pass daily, as well as highly remote locations, where individuals or small teams use portable devices for a variety of industrial purposes. Some radioactive sources are found in open facilities with minimal or no physical protection or trained on-site security forces. Largely as a result of poor chain-of-custody procedures and insufficient regulatory controls, thousands of radioactive sources have gone missing around the globe. Even in countries with effective regulatory controls in place, high disposal costs and a lack of repositories have led end users to abandon radioactive sources at the end of their life cycle. These are challenges that affect every region of the world, including Central Asia

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has developed a risk-based graded approach to security of radioactive sources, establishing five categories of sources that require different levels of protection depending on their radioactivity level. The first and second categories pose the highest risk. The first category requires the most stringent controls and includes radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs), irradiators, teletherapy sources, and fixed, multi-beam teletherapy (gamma knife) sources. The second category includes industrial gamma radiography sources, high-/medium-doserate brachytherapy sources, and others. If such sources fall into the wrong hands, they can be used to create radiological dispersion devices (RDDs), more commonly known as “dirty bombs.” If detonated, a dirty bomb could release high doses of radiation in a concentrated area, triggering panic and rendering that area uninhabitable for an extended period of time—resulting in large economic losses and risks of cancer among people who were exposed. That is why radioactive sources require reliable protection, accounting, and control measures, as well as appropriate management after their decommissioning, regardless of where they are located and used.

The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) and the Center for Energy and Security Studies (CENESS) sponsored a pair of regional workshops in Central Asia to foster dialogue among experts on the security of radioactive sources and measures to prevent their illicit trafficking. The workshops also served as an opportunity to bring together leading specialists from major international partners to discuss opportunities for enhanced coordination and new project development in the region.

The first regional workshop was held in May 2017 in Astana, Kazakhstan. This workshop, organized in cooperation with the IAEA and the Government of Kazakhstan, was the first of its kind to bring together experts from the region, the Russian Federation, the United States, and the IAEA to identify steps needed to combat the growing threat of radiological terrorism.

The second regional workshop was held in June 2018 in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. The Bishkek workshop, co-sponsored by the IAEA and the Governments of Canada and Kyrgyzstan, continued the format introduced in Astana in 2017, featuring presentations on the progress of security and management of radioactive sources in the region, as well as presentations on national efforts to prevent illicit trafficking of radioactive sources. This format provided an opportunity for security officials and practitioners from the region to exchange best practices and share lessons learned.

 Although the proceedings of the Bishkek workshop are restricted to the participants, the co-chairs of the workshop produced a summary, included in this report along with the workshop agenda and participants list. The co-chairs’ summary identifies a series of recommendations based on the discussions at both the Bishkek and Astana workshops.

The report is available in English and Russian.

December 3, 2018
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This report, Sustainable Security of Radioactive Sources in Central Asia, by NTI's Laura S.H. Holgate and CENESS’s Anton Khlopkov, provides an overview of the IAEA categorization of radioactive isotopes, the co-chairs’ summary of the most recent regional workshop, and other workshop materials. NTI and CENESS encourage experts from the region to use these materials to sustain effective security of radioactive sources and as the basis for continued regional dialogue on these important issues.

Authors
Laura Holgate

Senior Director, WMD Terrorism & Threat Reduction, National Security Council

Anton Khlopkov