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Stopping a Dirty Bomb

More than ten years after world leaders agreed to amend a landmark nuclear treaty to make it harder for terrorists to obtain radioactive material, the new measures have yet to enter into force. Failure to do so leaves the entire world at risk of an attack.

VIENNA – Nuclear terrorism is, in the words of US President Barack Obama, “the gravest danger we face.” But while few would dispute this characterization, the world has unfinished business in minimizing the threat. Ten years after world leaders agreed to amend the landmark 1987 Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) to make it harder for terrorists to obtain nuclear material, the new measures have yet to enter into force. The resulting vulnerability needs to be addressed urgently.

In July 2005, signatories to the CPPNM agreed to amend the Convention to address the risk of terrorism more effectively. The new measures that were introduced would make it more difficult for terrorists to cause a widespread release of radioactive material by attacking a nuclear power plant or detonating a radioactive dispersal device – commonly known as a dirty bomb.

But before the amendment can enter into force, two-thirds of the 152 signatories to the original convention must ratify it. While significant progress has been made – in July, the US, Italy, and Turkey did so – at least 14 more countries are needed.

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