Rate of Nuclear Thefts ‘Disturbingly High,’ Monitoring Chief Says

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The New York Times

Rate of Nuclear Thefts ‘Disturbingly High,’ Monitoring Chief Says

Neil MacFarquhar

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohamed ElBaradei makes a speech during the fifty-second regular session of the IAEA General Conference 2008 in Vienna September 29, 2008. (REUTERS/Herwig Prammer)

UNITED NATIONS - Mohamed ElBaradei, the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency,
said in a speech on Monday that the number of reports of nuclear or
radioactive material stolen around the world last year was
"disturbingly high."

Dr. ElBaradei, in his annual report to the General Assembly, said nearly 250 such thefts were reported in the year ending in June.

possibility of terrorists obtaining nuclear or other radioactive
material remains a grave threat," he said. "Equally troubling is the
fact that much of this material is not subsequently recovered."

of Dr. ElBaradei's staff and outside experts cautioned that the amount
of missing material remained relatively small. If all the stolen
material were lumped together, it would not be enough to build even one
nuclear device, they said.

It is also unclear if the rising
number of reports of stolen material stems from a growing market for
radioactive goods or more vigilant reporting of thefts by member

However, the idea that there might be a new market for
such material is of concern, they said, especially if some of it were
to end up in a dirty bomb.

The threat from such a bomb is less a
health risk from radiation than from the panic an attack would probably
cause, said Cristina Hansell, a professor at the Center for
Nonproliferation Studies, in Monterey, Calif.

Most of the
concern about thefts centers on the countries of the former Soviet
Union, where nuclear programs were widespread, but they occur

In a typical case, Ms. Hansell said, an oil company
reported last May that a device containing radioactive material that
was used in exploration in Sudan was missing.

It would take long
exposure to the device to create any health risk, she said. "What will
kill you from a dirty bomb is the immediate explosion, not the
radioactivity," she said, noting that the main concern was that despite
the attention devoted to trying to police such material, the amount
disappearing keeps rising. "There still seems to be quite a big

Aside from the issue of thefts, Dr. ElBaradei said he
hoped that North Korea, which left the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty
in 2003, would return, and he criticized Iran for impeding the agency's
attempts to verify whether it was developing nuclear weapons.

Sang-chol, a North Korean representative to the United Nations, accused
the monitoring agency of spying on his country at the behest of
Washington and called its position "prejudiced and unfair."

Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammad Khazaee, defended
his country's nuclear development program as peaceful while lashing out
at Israel for its creating a weapons program outside the
nonproliferation treaty framework.

It is widely assumed that Israel has nuclear weapons, but the Israeli government has never acknowledged it.

Khazaee called the policy of trying to force Iran to stop nuclear
enrichment before starting negotiations on economic and other
incentives "an irrational and failed policy."

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