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Nuclear Terrorism: threats, risks and vulnerabilities

The Agency’s nuclear security programme is influenced by an assessment of the reported intentions, motivations and capabilities of terrorists and criminals. It seeks to challenge the assumption that radioactive material is self-protecting. Assessments issued by national authorities continue to conclude that terrorist groups have the ambition to acquire, and possibly use, unconventional weapons such as improvised nuclear explosive devices and radiological dispersal devices - the so-called 'dirty bombs'.

Such assessments are given credence by public statements of intent made by those purporting to represent terrorist groups, by reports of attempts by terrorist groups to acquire nuclear and other radioactive material, and by various law enforcement actions which have interdicted or prevented attempts to acquire nuclear and other radioactive material.

Past events can be an indicator of future threats. Attempted malicious acts involving radioactive material and related facilities are not unknown. Allegations or indications that various terrorist/non-state groups have tried in the past to acquire nuclear and other radioactive material have been widely reported and indictments in criminal prosecutions of alleged members of terrorist groups have, in several cases, included such charges.

Threats to use radioactive sources for malicious purposes have been rare but not unknown. Sabotage of, or attacks or threats of attacks on, nuclear facilities also have occurred in the past but none of these reported events has yet resulted in dispersal of radioactivity.

| Last update: Tuesday, 09 December, 2014.