Ferrero-Waldner at the International conference on security of radioactive sources
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Dr. Benita Ferrero-Waldner
Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs
International Conference on Security of Radioactive Sources
10 - 13 March 2003, Hofburg Kongresszentrum
Vienna, March 11, 2003
Mr. Director General,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to welcome you here at the Vienna Hofburg, the former imperial palace and venue of many important conferences in the past. As host of this important conference, I hope that despite your intensive programme, you will find some time to enjoy the hospitality of the city of Vienna.
The elegance of the Hofburg stands in stark contrast to the topic which you will discuss in great detail during the next three days. The terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 in New York have alerted the world also to the potential of nuclear terrorism. These very days the world finds itself on the brink of a war over the issue of weapons of mass destruction.
The caves of Tora Bora of all places have revealed how close terror networks may have come to producing crude radiological dispersal devices, commonly referred to as ,,dirty bombs". Although the destructiveness of ,,dirty bombs" in terms of loss of lives and injuries is much smaller than in the case of a nuclear explosion, it would still be horrendous. It would also create enormous panic and chaos among the population and have severe psychological effects. The costs of a wide-scale evacuation of the affected population, the subsequent clean-up of contaminated property as well as the long-term health hazards would be considerable.
It is, of course, impossible to accurately assess the likelihood of an attack with "dirty bombs". But precisely for this reason a "cradle-to-grave"-control of powerful radioactive sources is urgently needed to protect them against terrorist acts, theft or mishandling. The high number of accidental contaminations with radioactive material in the past two decades points in the same direction.
As the IAEA has repeatedly pointed out, millions of radioactive sources have been distributed worldwide over the past 50 years and are used to benefit mankind in a wide range of medical, agricultural, industrial and research applications. The security of radioactive materials has traditionally been relatively light. Hence, there is a clear need to strengthen existing security measures as well as to identify and implement additional measures against the potential malevolent or accidental use of radioactive sources.
As radiation knows no boundaries, the security of radioactive sources is a legitimate concern of all states. Thus, countries must demonstrate to their own citizens as well as to the international community that strong and effective security systems are in place and that the dangers stemming from terrorists who are determined to wreak havoc on the civilized world are not to be underestimated. It is by the security we provide for that we as governments will be judged by our citizens.
This Conference is important, because it can - and I quote from mandate of this conference - "help foster a better understanding of the nature of the threats of potential malevolent use, on ways to diminish the likelihood of such threats occurring, and on the necessary measures for preparedness and response in case they do occur".
In this context, I should like to seize this opportunity to commend Director General Mohamed El Baradei and his team for their intensive hard work in the past years in serving as a catalyst for the efforts of many governments to address the challenge posed by radioactive sources and in particular to prevent and counter nuclear terrorism. As we all know, the IAEA has offered and continues to offer a wide variety of services to governments to that end, ranging from assistance in locating, securing and disposing of powerful radioactive sources to the provision of equipment and training of border guards and other law enforcement officials. I am confident that the Agency's impressive expertise will stimulate and enrich our discussion.
More than ever before the IAEA is at the centre of world attention in its efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation at a juncture in history where this pressing issue dominates the national agenda. The IAEA as well as the other Vienna UN units play an invaluable role in helping the UN and in particular the Security Council fulfil the responsibility of maintaining world peace in the face of the new dangers of terror and weapons of mass destruction.
Finally, Mr. Chairman, I am pleased to note that not only the number of participants exceeds all our expectations, but also the level of participation. This attendance testifies to the importance many countries attach to the security of radioactive sources and to this Conference. I harbour no doubts that this combination of political decision-makers and experts will make the Conference very successful. I wish you an inspiring, vivacious debate and - even more importantly - fruitful results of your work.