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Conference on Security of Radioactive Sources

International Conference on Security of Radioactive Sources, Vienna, Austria, 10-13 March, 2003


After the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 in the United States, public apprehension about the security of radioactive sources has increased in many countries. Radioactive sources are abundant and are extensively used around the world in a wide range of medical, industrial, agricultural and research applications. Some sources contain relatively large amounts of radioactive material that could potentially be used for malevolent purposes. Radioactive material in a source could be used as part of a radiological dispersal device (RDD) or, if the material is easily dispersible, may be spread by breaking open the seal and releasing the material to the environment. Such malevolent actions could conceivably contaminate large areas of an urban environment with minor but measurable amounts of radioactive material. Any potential health effects would be moderated owing to the dispersion of the radioactive contamination; however, anxiety, panic and social disruption could follow such an event. The awareness that terrorists might attempt to use radioactive materials for malevolent purposes has raised questions about the adequacy of the security of radioactive sources.

Many radioactive sources are not generally subject to tight security measures; such measures have traditionally been limited to preventing accidental access or petty theft such as the theft of shielding materials. Traditional security measures aim to prevent unauthorized access to radioactive sources; such access is facilitated when sources are misplaced, forgotten, lost or insecurely stored. Consideration must now be given to what additional security measures are required against the potential malevolent use of radioactive sources. Security measures should now also be focused on preventing the loss of control over radioactive sources. Such a loss of control over radioactive sources could heighten the concern that has arisen recently over the intentional acquisition of radioactive sources for malevolent purposes.

The vast majority of radioactive sources are under the control of competent governmental regulatory authorities, but there are nevertheless many sources that have never been subject to regulatory control, or that were initially regulated but have been abandoned, lost, misplaced, stolen or otherwise removed without authorization; these are termed ‘orphan sources’. Because of their availability and lack of control, such orphan sources pose a risk of being used for malevolent purposes. Recently, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) agreed with the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy and the United States Department of Energy to work together to secure and manage radioactive sources, in particular orphan sources, in the newly independent States on the territory of the former USSR.

In order to address the issues raised by the current concerns about the security of radioactive sources in a comprehensive manner, it is appropriate at this time to assemble officials and experts involved in ensuring the security and regulation of radioactive sources from governments and intergovernmental organizations, as well as law enforcement officials dealing with the prevention of the malevolent use of radioactive sources, customs officials and other border control experts dealing with the prevention of illicit transboundary movement of radioactive materials, and experts in radiation safety and security to discuss the prevention, detection and response to the potential malevolent uses of radioactive sources. With this aim in mind and following increasing interest from its Member States, the IAEA organized this International Conference on Security of Radioactive Sources. more

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