VIENNA U.S. non-proliferation campaigners launched an agency on Monday aimed at sharing information to improve security at the world's nuclear sites.
"Global nuclear security is only as strong as the weakest link in the chain. We can't afford to wait for a security Chernobyl before we act," said Charles Curtis, president of the Washington-based Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), referring to the 1986 Soviet nuclear reactor meltdown.
A World Institute for Nuclear Security (WINS) is to be set up with $3 million in funding from the NTI, a matching $3 million from the U.S. Energy Department and $100,000 from Norway and have a full-time staff of 5-10 experts.
"Through WINS, professionals responsible for on the ground security will collect the world's best security practices for dealing with nuclear facilities and materials and share that information with peers worldwide," an NTI statement said.
The agency will be based in Vienna, headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and is to complement IAEA work in nuclear security. The IAEA praised the undertaking at a joint news conference with NTI and U.S. officials.
"We have come to realize we have to become more intelligent and act in a preventative way" against terrorist groups keen on stealing nuclear technology and materials, IAEA director Mohamed ElBaradei said.
"There is still a lot of vulnerability and lacunas," said ElBaradei, with more than 200 reports of radioactive material gone astray annually. Cases only rarely involve bomb ingredients but lax security and policing is a problem in many regions.
Concern persists for the security of materials used in atomic bomb-making at installations particularly in former Soviet republics and other non-Western countries.
"We're doing a better job controlling nuclear materials than 10 years ago but this is not something we can ever declare victory over as long as the atom is with us," said NTI founder Sam Nunn, a former senior U.S. senator.
(Reporting by Mark Heinrich; Editing by Janet Lawrence)