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Protecting Nuclear Reactors From Terrorists: International Measures Sorely Needed, Say Experts
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For Immediate Release: October 24, 2001

Contacts: George Bunn, 650-725-2709; Fritz Steinhausler, 650-725-0936; or Daryl Kimball, ACA, 202-463-8270

(Washington, D.C.) In light of the September 11 attacks, nuclear power plants and associated infrastructure present a significant terrorism vulnerability in the United States and abroad. Directly attacking reactors with aircraft or truck bombs, sabotaging reactor control systems, or attacking nuclear material transports could all lead to a dangerous dispersal or theft of nuclear materials.

According to a new article by Ambassador George Bunn and Fritz Steinhausler in the October 2001 issue of Arms Control Today, "Many countries provide some form of physical protection for their nuclear material, but because there is no international standard or requirement for physical protection of civilian nuclear material, countries' physical protections for nuclear facilities vary widely and are often inadequate."

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has recently endorsed efforts aimed at fortifying the physical protections of nuclear facilities, but efforts need to be pursued with greater urgency, according to Bunn and Steinhausler. There is one international treaty that provides for protection of civilian nuclear material, the 1980 Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, but it only applies to the protection from theft of nuclear material in international transit. The authors argue that "Adoption of new physical protection standards … is essential, and the sooner the better. Unfortunately, revising the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material will take several years."

In the interim, they suggest, new principles and standards for improving physical protection of nuclear facilities worldwide, which have already been recommended by the IAEA, should be applied immediately by national governments. In addition, with adequate funding, "the IAEA can provide guidance, training, advisory services and technical assistance to help countries improve their protection practices," write Bunn and Steinhausler, who are with the Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation.

The authors are available for comments and analysis on this vital security issue. Their article, "Guarding Nuclear Reactors and Material From Terrorists and Thieves," can be accessed on-line at www.armscontrol.org/act/2001_10/bunnoct01.asp. For comprehensive news coverage and expert analysis of nuclear non-proliferation and related issues, visit www.armscontrol.org

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Posted: October 24, 2001