The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last year received notifications of nearly 190 incidents of nuclear and other radioactive material being out of regulatory control, including some cases of trafficking and other criminal activities.
The data – submitted to the IAEA’s Incident and Trafficking Database (ITDB) by countries on a voluntary basis – was highlighted in an annual fact sheet published during this week’s IAEA ministerial conference on strengthening nuclear security and countering the threat of nuclear terrorism.
With 140 participating States, the database plays an important role in fostering international cooperation and information sharing among countries. By reporting lost or stolen material to the ITDB, countries increase the chances of its recovery and reduce the opportunities for it to be used in criminal activities. The information is shared with the IAEA, other Member States and relevant international organizations supporting the retrieval of lost or stolen material and the prosecution of suspected criminals.
“As a unique asset in the IAEA’s work to strengthen nuclear security, the ITDB allows us to identify threats and trends so that we can support our Member States in improving the implementation of their nuclear security commitments,” said Raja Raja Adnan, Director of the IAEA Division of Nuclear Security.
The focus of nuclear security is to prevent, detect and respond to potential nuclear security events. Its objective is to protect people, property, society and the environment from the harmful consequences of criminal or other intentional misuse of nuclear and other radioactive material.
In 2019, 189 incidents were reported by 36 States, indicating that unauthorized activities and events involving nuclear and other radioactive material, including incidents of trafficking and malicious use, continue to occur. Six of the incidents were related to trafficking or malicious use, continuing a slight downward trend since a peak of 20 such incidents around 15 years ago. For the other 183 incidents, there was either insufficient information to determine any connection with trafficking or malicious use or sufficient information to determine there was none. Over the last ten years, the average number of incidents submitted to the ITDB has been 185 per year.
Since 1993, 3686 incidents have been reported to the ITDB, of which 290 involved a confirmed or likely act of trafficking or malicious use. Twelve of those incidents included high enriched uranium and two included plutonium. Radioactive sources continue to be reported as stolen or missing, underscoring the need to improve security measures for such sources, especially during transport.
“The ITDB continues to receive reports of incidents involving potentially weapons usable nuclear material and high activity sources. Some of these incidents also involved attempts to sell the material across borders,” said Raja Adnan. “These cases highlight the international character of the issue of illicit trafficking and the need for cooperative efforts, such as the ITDB, to counter these threats and challenges we face globally.”
At this week’s conference, government ministers and other high level representatives from more than 140 countries adopted a declaration to enhance global nuclear security, including a specific commitment “to combatting illicit trafficking of nuclear and other radioactive material and to ensure that the material cannot be used by non-State actors for malicious purposes.”