As Japan prepares to turn over hundreds of kilogrammes of sensitive high-enriched uranium and plutonium, sufficient to make up to 50 nuclear weapons, to the United States, we examine nuclear security and the threat of a dirty bomb.
Nuclear security includes fighting trafficking. Radioactive fissile material could be used by terrorists. An arrest in Moldova in 2010 serves as example of the organised crime interest as well; the special police operation netted 1.8 kilos of uranium 238, which had an estimated market value of 9 million euros.
One of the concerns is the element can be used in a dirty bomb, combining conventional explosives with radioactive material. Last year, around 140 trafficking incidents were reported to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the most serious ones in Russia.
Director of The Hague Security Delta Rob de Wijk said: “Most of the nuclear materials come from Russia and this has a very simple explanation, because Russia, the former Soviet Union, went through a revolution and the problem of revolution is that you lose control, lose control over your arsenals, you lose also control over, let’s say, nuclear waste.”
The safety experts want to convince countries to get rid of their stocks of highly enriched uranium (HEU), and plutonium, which is the key ingredient in an atomic bomb. Thirty countries are known to have at least one kilo of HEU, according to the International Panel on Fissile Materials. The world total is 1,390 tonnes. This is mostly in the hands of Russia, the US, France, the UK, China, Pakistan, India and Israel. North Korea doesn’t have any, the experts say.
Non-civilian uranium stocks totalling 234 tonnes are held, notably, by Russia, the US, France and India. North Korea is estimated to have around 30 kilos of it.
Analysts say radical groups could theoretically build a crude nuclear bomb if they had the money, technical knowledge and fissile materials needed. Far from all radioactive material is controlled by governments; it is commonly found in hospitals and factories.
More than 120 countries are connected through the IAEA Incident and Trafficking Database, exchanging information on theft, sabotage, unauthorized access and illegal transfers.