The nuclear threat that hung over the world during the Cold War may have lifted, but the legacy it left behind has become increasingly dangerous.
While non-proliferation efforts in some countries continue, elsewhere sights are set on developing new bombs. The US admits the non-proliferation battle is proving difficult.
President Barack Obama said in April, 2009: “The technology to build a bomb has spread. Terrorists are determined to buy, build or steal one. Our efforts to contain these dangers are centred on a global non-proliferation regime, but as more people and nation break the rules, we can reach the point where the centre cannot hold.”
The US, the UK, France, Russia and China are signed up to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, but they are not the only ones in the nuclear club.
India and Pakistan are each thought to have between 30 and 60 nuclear warheads, and they are not signed up to the treaty. Experts believe North Korea, which pulled out of the treaty in 2003, has produced enough plutonium for six to eight bombs.
Israel neither confirms nor denies its nuclear arsenal, but is widely believed to have between 100 and 200 devices. Iran denies accusations that it is attempting to develop atomic bombs, but the West is not convinced.
The biggest concern at the moment is security at nuclear sites, where material could be stolen and turned into so-called dirty bombs. Russia, for example, has been accused of being too relaxed when it comes to safeguarding nuclear material. Despite attempts to reassure critics, doubts remain.
Vladimir Chuprov, a Greenpeace energy expert, said: “There are a lot of radioactive sources used in the healthcare industry, in the gas and oil industry, there are old submarine engine, hundreds of which are scattered now along Russi’s Artic shore. There are thousands of sources of radioactivity like this which can be used to make a dirty bomb.”
But experts warn that security concerns cover all countries with nuclear industries.
Joe Cirincione, a professor at Georgetown University, said: “And then some countries that you don’t think about, like Vietnam and Ghana and Argentina, who have civilian stockpiles of highly enriched uranium which can be used for a bomb. They don’t have weapons, but their security is so poor on these materials that terrorists might decide that is the weak link.”
Even the security boss at a US nuclear site in New Mexico has admitted he cannot be sure if the facility is completely safe from attack.