Last Updated: Tue Nov 02, 2010 20:37 pm (KSA) 17:37 pm (GMT)

Illegal nuclear trading

Faisal al-Rfouh

The increasing number of cases of illegal nuclear material possession or related incidents is worrisome for the international peace and security.

According to the 2008 annual report of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), released in the second week of August this year, the IAEA received reports about 15 cases of clandestine nuclear possession or related incidents and 16 cases involving theft or loss of sensitive substances.

 Cautioning against alarmism based on the figures, Richard Hoskins, head of the IAEA’s Nuclear Safety and Security Department, said in early November 2007 that the figures were evidence of a major problem, but not necessarily one that could get worse quickly 

According to the IAEA report, these incidents are part of 119 events from 2008 that were added to the IAEA’s Illicit Trafficking Database, which has recorded 1,562 nuclear trafficking incidents from 1993 till the end of 2008.
These incidents vary from illicit disposal efforts to discoveries of “orphan” nuclear material of unknown provenance.

Cautioning against alarmism based on the figures, Richard Hoskins, head of the IAEA’s Nuclear Safety and Security Department, said in early November 2007 that the figures were evidence of a major problem, but not necessarily one that could get worse quickly.

While conceding that the absolute number of incidents might increase, Hoskins said that “other factors are at work in driving up the numbers reported to the database.”

It was the dissolution of the former Soviet Union, about 17 years ago, which triggered concern that fissile materials and even complete nuclear weapons would escape from poorly secured stockpiles and end up in dangerous hands. However, the shape of the nuclear leakage threat remains ill defined and somewhat hypothetical till now.

 According to data by the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies, published in early 2007, total seizures of Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU), in uranium-235 equivalent and plutonium respectively, in the period 1992 to 2006 amounted to about 9.4 kilogram's and a little less than half a kilogram not enough for a bomb 

Rens Lee, in an article published in the summer 2008 issue of Orbis, reported that though a black market in nuclear and radiological materials had emerged as a consequence of the Soviet collapse, little material of direct military significance and no nuclear warheads surfaced on the international smuggling channels.

According to data by the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies, published in early 2007, total seizures of Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU), in uranium-235 equivalent and plutonium respectively, in the period 1992 to 2006 amounted to about 9.4 kilogram's and a little less than half a kilogram not enough for a bomb.

According to the IAEA 2008 report, the agency conducted 21 advisory missions during 2008 that generated sets of proposals for states to improve the security of nuclear materials and related infrastructure, establish nuclear regulatory systems and counter nuclear smuggling, and prepare for nuclear or radiological attacks.

 Cautioning that “malicious” acts involving nuclear or other radioactive material are a continuing worldwide threat, the IAEA report lays emphasis on “the need for further improvement of measures to control and secure nuclear and other radioactive material, and of capabilities to detect illicit nuclear trafficking and other unauthorized acts involving such material 

The safeguards activities were carried out by the IAEA in 163 nations in 2008, intended to ensure the states are not diverting material for illicit purposes, producing undeclared nuclear material or conducting secret nuclear operations.

Cautioning that “malicious” acts involving nuclear or other radioactive material are a continuing worldwide threat, the IAEA report lays emphasis on “the need for further improvement of measures to control and secure nuclear and other radioactive material, and of capabilities to detect illicit nuclear trafficking and other unauthorized acts involving such material.”





*Published in Jordan's THE JORDAN TIMES on Septe.ber 2, 2009. Faisal al-Rfouh is the former minister of culture, a professor and the chairman of the Political Science Department, University of Jordan. He is also the president of the Orient Center for Studies and Cultural Dialogue.

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