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Security of radioactive sources

Radioactive sources provide great benefits to humanity through uses in agriculture, industry, medicine and research. The vast majority are used in well-regulated environments. Nonetheless, control has been lost over a small fraction of those sources and accidents have occurred, some with serious – even fatal – consequences.

In the wake of recent deadly terrorist attacks, the international community recognizes that new and stronger measures must be taken to protect against and prepare for a broad range of terrorist scenarios. Substantial evidence indicates the intent of terrorist groups to acquire and use radioactive sources to develop radiological disperal devices (RDDs), or 'dirty bombs'. Radioactive sources can also be used maliciously in a radiation exposure device (RED) that is designed to intentionally expose members of the public.

The Agency's work

The IAEA assists Member States to enhance the security of radioactive sources. Principally, the Agency develops guidance for the security of radiation sources and helps States formulate national strategies and action plans. Read more about the Agency's work in ensuring both the safety and security of radiation sources.

The Code of Conduct of the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources is the cornerstone of the Agency's work in this area, and has been revised to reflect enhanced needs for the security of radioactive sources. Work is underway on a Code of Good Practice for radioactive source manufacturers and distributors.

A curriculum for an IAEA training course on the security of radioactive sources has been developed. Work is ongoing on developing mobile equipment to allow on-site conditioning of sources (SHARS), on the Catalogue of Radioactive Sources, and on interim guidance for the security of radioactive material in transport.

A major International Conference on the Security of Radioactive Sources was held in Vienna in March 2003. The participants reiterated the need to strengthen safety and security of radioactive sources. The Conference findings included proposals to identify, search for, recover, and secure high-risk radioactive sources; strengthen long-term control over them; interdict illicit trafficking and improve the planning the response to radiological emergencies arising from the malevolent use of radioactive sources.

| Last update: Tuesday, 09 December, 2014.