Experts say: Danger of Trafficked Nuclear, Radiological Materials Lingers

Two decades after the fall of the Soviet Union, the threat of a terrorist or criminal organization acquiring and smuggling nuclear or radioactive materials out of Russia or its former states persists, nonproliferation experts familiar with the issue tell us.

The best known catalog of nuclear smuggling incidents is the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Illicit Trafficking Database, which documents member-confirmed occurrences. The database recorded a total of 1,773 incidents between January 1993 and December 2009 that involved the illegal movement of nuclear or radioactive materials. Of those, 351 concerned unauthorized possession of materials or criminal activities.

From July 2009 to June 2010, 222 incidents were reported, according to a database fact sheet. Recorded incidents included 21 cases of possession or criminal activities, 61 of theft or loss and 140 of other unauthorized activities.

There were also 736 cases of “orphan sources,” which had either been lost, accidentally found or misrouted on their way to a recipient; and 35 “malevolent acts,” such as intentional irradiation of people and contamination of their homes and belongings, the two researchers found.

The full report from GSN can be read here