As the world turns its focus toward nuclear proliferation issues in North Korea and Iran, the international community faces another critical threat: the loss or theft of nuclear materials. This episode explores security risks of lost or stolen nuclear materials, provides case studies to illustrate the threat, and details how countries are addressing this problem.

Every year, there are dozens of incidents involving lost or stolen nuclear materials. Some materials are hijacked by criminal groups while in transport, others stolen within nuclear facilities, and some have even been lost in aircraft crashes. Terrorist groups also continue to seek materials necessary for weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, the existence of unaccounted nuclear materials could yield cataclysmic consequences if harnessed by malign actors.

These incidents normally occur in Russia and former Soviet Union states, as well as developing nuclear-capable countries such as Mexico, India, and South Africa. However, examples of lost nuclear material span to the developed world–with reports of lost materials even in France and the United States.

To address this problem, the International Atomic Energy Administration (IAEA) works with countries to track occurences of lost and stolen nuclear materials. Moreover, countries like the United States work with partner nations to secure nuclear facilities and infrastructure, as well as their transport systems.

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About the Author
Jean-Bernard is a second-year graduate student in the International Affairs MA program at the Elliott School of International Affairs. He focuses on nuclear policy and international security studies. Jean-Bernard is a contributing writer to the International Affairs Review. He graduated from St. Thomas University in Miami, Florida with a BA in History and Political Science. Before enrolling in the MA program, he interned on Capitol Hill and worked for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington, DC.