World's nuclear facilities vulnerable, warns UN agency : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

World's nuclear facilities vulnerable, warns UN agency 10:35 01 November 01 Rob Edwards Nuclear plants are vulnerable to attacks by terrorists, according to a stark new warning by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Plutonium, uranium and even medical radiation sources are now much more likely to be targeted by terror groups seeking to cause mayhem, the IAEA believes.

On the eve of a special meeting in Vienna on combating nuclear terrorism, the UN's normally cautious nuclear agency says the risk has risen sharply since the atrocities on the US on 11 September. It is asking its 132 member states to increase its $330 million annual budget by $30m to $50m to help meet the threat.

The world's 1300 nuclear facilities are not hardened to withstand "acts of war" like a deliberate hit by a large, fully-fuelled passenger jet, warns the IAEA's director general, Mohamed ElBaradei. "There is no sanctuary any more, no safety zone."

When New Scientist highlighted the vulnerability of the nuclear reprocessing complex at Sellafield in England to aerial attack (13 October 2001, p 10), the magazine was accused of "scaremongering" by British Nuclear Fuels, the state-owned company that runs the site.

But on Saturday 27 October two Tornado fighter jets were scrambled to patrol the complex for five hours in response to a telephone threat. And in the US on Monday, following intelligence reports received by the FBI, the air space around all US nuclear plants was closed to private planes by the Federal Aviation Authority. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission also issued a "threat advisory".

Dirty bomb

The IAEA is also concerned about the risk of terrorists stealing a medical or industrial radiation source and using conventional explosives to make it into a "dirty bomb". Although this may not cause large loss of life, it could provoke panic, contaminate property and have major economic consequences.

There are millions of such sources in the world, many thousands of which the IAEA regards as "orphaned" because they are no longer controlled by any regulatory agency. The sources are used widely in radiotherapy, to irradiate food and to check for cracks in buildings, and can contain large amounts of radioactive caesium 137 or cobalt 60.

The security of radiation sources in some countries is "disturbingly weak", says the IAEA. "Security is as good as its weakest link and loose nuclear material in any country is a potential threat to the entire world," says ElBaradei.

The IAEA wants extra cash to strengthen border monitoring and to help poorer countries locate and dispose of orphaned sources. It is also keen to expand its capability to react to a radiological emergency caused by a terrorist attack.

Graham Andrew, ElBaradei's scientific adviser, points out that the IAEA's budget has not grown in real terms for several years. "If we are going to make a real impact, we need to have real money," he says. 10:35 01 November 01

-- Martin Thompson (, November 02, 2001


Ground to air missiles, like in Israel, is the only quick answer here. If a huge aircraft is heading direcctly toward a nuclear facility and is within a short distance of, say, three miles or less, well within a no-fly zone, there should be no question as to its intent. Only recourse then would be to shoot it down.

-- Uncle Fred (, November 02, 2001.

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