The governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has approved a plan aimed at improving protection measures against "acts of terrorism involving nuclear and other radioactive materials." The plan is aimed at helping states to assess and eradicate any vulnerability at nuclear installations, to recover missing highly radioactive sources, and to respond to guerrilla acts.
IAEA director-general Mohamed ElBaradei said: "New activities are designed to supplement and reinforce national efforts in areas where international cooperation is indispensable to the strengthening of nuclear security." In a statement, the IAEA board of governors said: "There is wide recognition that the international physical protection regime needs to be strengthened." The IAEA has called for member states to fund the $32 million per year programme. Several countries, including Australia, UK, USA, Japan, Netherlands and Slovenia, have already pledged funding for the plan. A large proportion of the funds ($20 million) will go towards helping countries without adequate funds to carry out the necessary security upgrades.
Meanwhile, ElBaradei said the agency hoped to begin performing full inspections of facilities in North Korea, one of the three countries referred to by US president Bush as an "axis of evil". The country withdrew from the IAEA in 1994, and the agency has been unable to conduct thorough plant inspections since then. "Small but welcome steps" were made recently when the IAEA was given permission to visit an isotope production laboratory in Nyongbyon last January (see NEI March 2002, p7 or see links below), and early last month North Korean officials had observed the agency perform a calibration of a spent fuel counter.
In the 1994 framework agreement made with the USA, North Korea committed itself to freezing its plutonium production programme in return for two LWRs. The reactors were originally due for completion next year. President Bush has recently signalled that the USA will confront North Korea over its refusal to comply with IAEA inspections. North Korea insists that substantial parts of the new reactors are to be built before it will allow the IAEA to inspect its nuclear facilities.