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Trafficking of radioactive material remains limited, IAEA data shows

The ITDB covers three types of incidents where nuclear or radioactive material escaped regulatory control, with Group I being the most serious. Incidents where trafficking or malicious use are unlikely or can be ruled out are known as Group III, and those where any connection is unclear fall into Group II.
Last Updated : 20 May 2024, 08:33 IST
Last Updated : 20 May 2024, 08:33 IST

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Vienna: Trafficking of nuclear and radioactive material remains very limited, with only a handful of cases recorded in 2023, broadly in line with recent years, annual data from the UN nuclear watchdog's Incident and Trafficking Database (ITDB) showed.

The ITDB was set up to track illicit trafficking of nuclear material such as uranium and plutonium, which can be used in atom bombs, and radioactive material such as isotopes used in hospital equipment. Currently 145 countries take part in it.

Only six incidents confirmed or likely to be connected to "trafficking or malicious use", known as Group I, were recorded last year, a slight increase from 2022 but fewer than in 2021, according to the annual ITDB factsheet published on Monday.

"In 2023, 168 incidents were recorded by 31 states, in line with historical averages," the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a statement.

The ITDB now covers three types of incidents where nuclear or radioactive material escaped regulatory control, with Group I being the most serious. Incidents where trafficking or malicious use are unlikely or can be ruled out are known as Group III, and those where any connection is unclear fall into Group II.

It now also includes contaminated materials such as scrap metal and scams involving claims that material is nuclear or radioactive.

Ten incidents fell into Group II, less than half 2022's figure. Those in Group III rose by about a quarter to 152.

Group III incidents typically involve "unauthorised disposal, unauthorised shipment or the discovery of radioactive material", the IAEA said.

There was a growing number of cases where radioactive material, usually metal, was disposed of in an unauthorised way and detected during recycling.

If not detected then, it can contaminate other material when melted down. There were also more cases of manufactured goods contaminated this way.

Since 1993, fewer than 2 per cent of incidents in Group I have been classified as "malicious use". Almost 86 per cent of incidents in Group I have been filed as trafficking, with profit being the motive. The remainder were scams and frauds.

"Most trafficking incidents could be characterized as 'amateur' or opportunistic in nature," the IAEA said.

There have been better-organised cases involving experienced perpetrators but "such cases have been relatively rare, and none have occurred for almost a decade".

Theft is a common cause, especially during transport.

"Figures from the ITDB highlight the ongoing importance of strengthening transport security measures," the IAEA said.

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Published 20 May 2024, 08:33 IST

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