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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

IAEA Warns of Race to Prevent Nuclear Attacks

SYDNEY, Australia -- The world faces a "race against time" to prevent nuclear terror, the United Nation's nuclear watchdog chief said Monday, citing an extensive illicit market in nuclear and radioactive materials after the Sept. 11 attacks.

More than 24 companies or individuals were engaged in the sale of nuclear materials and more than 60 incidents of trafficking in nuclear or other radioactive material are expected this year, said Mohamed ElBaradei, who heads the International Atomic Energy Agency

"The threat of nuclear terrorism is real and current," he said at a Sydney conference on nuclear proliferation and terror.

"We need to do all we can to work on the new phenomena called nuclear terrorism, which was sprang on us after 9/11 when we realized terrorists had become more sophisticated and had shown an interest in nuclear and radioactive material."

Undeclared nuclear programs discovered in Iran, Libya, Iraq and North Korea proved the existence of an extensive illicit market for the supply of nuclear items, he said.

There were 60 trafficking incidents last year, bringing the total in the past decade to 630, and the annual tally was expected to rise this year, ElBaradei said.

"We have a race against time because this was something we were not prepared for."

Much of the nuclear hardware in question had dual uses outside of nuclear weapons so trying to control exports of technology was not enough to control proliferation, he said.

"Clearly it is time to change our assumptions regarding the inaccessibility of nuclear technology. The technical barriers to mastering the essential steps of uranium enrichment, and to designing weapons, have eroded over time," ElBaradei said.

ElBaradei urged the international community to adopt measures to control sensitive parts of the nuclear fuel cycle, which he listed as enriched uranium and the reprocessing of plutonium.

The IAEA saw four potential nuclear terror threats: the theft of a nuclear weapon; the creation of a nuclear bomb using stolen materials; the spread of radioactive material; and an attack on a nuclear facility or transport vehicle.

Governments have increased security around nuclear plants. Canada said last month its plants were designed to withstand the impact of an airliner but the plants, which are located next to waterways to access cooling water, needed barriers to protect them from attacks by vessels carrying bombs.