30 October 2008

Those pesky nuclear thieves

Be fair. Even the best security guards in the world can't be expected to keep their eyes on the ball all of the time... but I would have thought that if someone was in charge of potentially dangerous radioactive material they might be a little more alert.

Unfortunately, the International Atomic Energy Agency has reported that nuclear theft is worryingly higher than normal. A statement by IAEA Director General Dr Mohamed El Baradei announced that 250 thefts have been reported in the year ending in June.

There could be a number of reasons for this. It may simply be because there is more nuclear material out there or that thefts are being more rigorously reported. The more scary possibility is that there are people out there so desperate to get their hands on radioactive stuff that they're concertedly nicking it left, right and centre.

This is certainly an aspect that worries the IAEA. In his statement, El Baradei explains:
"The possibility of terrorists obtaining nuclear or other radioactive material remains a grave threat. The number of incidents reported to the Agency involving the theft or loss of nuclear or radioactive material is disturbingly high ... Equally troubling is the fact that much of this material is not subsequently recovered. Sometimes material is found which had not been reported missing."
As the nuclear power renaissance kicks in and more radioactive material gets produced, the risk of 'losing' some of it gets even bigger.

The big hope is that the international community will be able to control theft by keeping tighter checks and balances on nuclear fuel and limit nuclear production facilities to a few countries. But we all know how slow and impotent the international community can be when it comes to the crunch. And, let's face it, in the meantime the thieves presumably have enough stolen nuclear stuff to play with.

Burglar picture from the lovely Computer Science for Fun site.

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