Nuclear terrorism threat real: IAEA

VIENNA, NOV. 1. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has said that the ruthlessness of the September 11 attacks on the U.S. showed that an act of nuclear terrorism was ``far more likely'' than previously thought.

``The willingness of terrorists to sacrifice their lives to achieve their evil aims creates a new dimension in the fight against terrorism,'' the IAEA Director- General, Mohammed Elbaradei, told journalists in Vienna on Wednesday.

Mr. Elbaradei, whose Vienna-based U.N. Agency sets world standards for nuclear security, said the concern was no longer limited to the possibility of Governments diverting nuclear materials into clandestine weapons programmes.

``Now we have been alerted to the potential of terrorists targeting nuclear facilities or using radioactive sources to incite panic, contaminate property and even cause injury or death among civilian populations.'' Experts have gathered at the IAEA's headquarters to discuss security. They have added an extra session on Friday devoted solely to the issue of nuclear terrorism.

Mr. Elbaradei called on countries to take a careful inventory of the security risks at their nuclear power plants and other facilities and to spend the money necessary to ensure that they can prevent or withstand terrorist attacks.

Although there are no confirmed cases of terrorists using nuclear weapons, he said there was concern over reports that some militant groups had attempted to acquire nuclear material. This included the Al-Qaeda of Osama bin Laden.

Since 1993, there have been 175 known cases of trafficking in nuclear material and 201 cases of trafficking in other radioactive sources, such as those used for medical or industrial purposes.

But only 18 of these have actually involved highly-enriched uranium or plutonium, the material needed to produce an atomic bomb. The IAEA believes that the quantities involved are insufficient to construct a nuclear explosive device.

It estimates that there has been a six-fold increase in nuclear material in peaceful programmes worldwide since 1970.

There are 438 nuclear power reactors around the world, 651 research reactors, of which 284 are in operation, and 250 fuel cycle plants, including uranium mills and plants that convert, enrich, store and re-process nuclear material.

While the level of security at nuclear facilities is considered to be very high, the IAEA believes the security of medical and industrial radiation sources is weak in some countries.

Mr. Elbaradei said the soundness of nuclear facilities had been demonstrated in U.S. experiments in which a military jet was slammed into a concrete and steel structure identical to that of a nuclear power plant. The structure held. Nevertheless, security at all nuclear plants must be kept tight.

- Reuters

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