Nuclear security and combating nuclear terrorism

Piratox Exercise. Credit = SDISPiratox Exercise. Credit = SDIS

As the French White Paper on Domestic Security against Terrorism underscored, France takes the risks of nuclear terrorism emerging very seriously.

At the present time, the risk of a terrorist group gaining possession of a nuclear weapon is low. But it cannot be ruled out, especially if such a terrorist group were to benefit from a State’s support. Terrorists may also consider attacks against nuclear facilities or a radiological attack (dispersion of radioactive materials).

Against this backdrop, the international community is working to adopt a number of international instruments and systems.

The United Nations

Since 2002, the United Nations General Assembly has adopted a resolution [coquille dans la VF] presented by India and co-sponsored by France entitled “Measures to prevent terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction”.

The particular threat that stems form nuclear terrorism is also addressed in United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strateg. The Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force was created in 2005 and reports to the United Nations Secretary-General. It is coordinated by Jean-Paul Laborde, a French national. It established a working group more specifically charged with “Preventing and Responding to WMD Terrorist Attacks”. The IAEA is a member of this working group.

France is party to 13 conventions related to counter-terrorism negotiated in the United Nations. It has begun the procedures to ratify the 2005 International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism. France is advocating the universalization of these conventions, which constitute a comprehensive and coherent series in the field of counter-terrorism, and is offering assistance in this regard to States as needed.

In April 2004, the United Nations took a crucial step forward with the adoption of UNSC Resolution 1540. It aims to prevent the risk of terrorists’ acquiring WMDs and their means of delivery. This resolution is especially important in that it was placed under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. This means that the Council can ask States to take specific measures to comply with their obligations.

With this resolution in mind, France considers that sensitive export control helps lower the risk of terrorists’ accessing material, facilities, equipment and technology that could further the development of WMDs. Actively promoting this, France instigated a workshop held in October 2009 entitled “Resolution 1540 in the Gulf Region: Challenges for the Future”.


France supports financially and through input from its experts IAEA action to protect against nuclear and radiological terrorism. In particular, it is promoting the implementation of the Code of Conduct on the Security and Safety of Radioactive Sources. The European Union is the main contributor of IAEA funds for nuclear security, having given over €20 million since 2004.

IAEA has also recently adopted its 3rd Nuclear Security Plan (2010-2013). It focuses on:

- Development of a comprehensive series of documents for the Agency along the lines of the Nuclear Security Series,
- Legislative assistance and assistance in acceding to and implementing the relevant main international instruments,
- Human resources with a view to the sustainable implementation of nuclear security measures,
- Risk reduction (by pursuing actions in the Agency, at the request of States concerned, with a view to bolstering physical protection measures for existing facilities, developing State Systems of Accounting for and Control of Nuclear Materials, border control).

France encourages the definition and implementation of effective national standards to ensure security of storage and handling of sensitive materials to prevent their diversion by terrorists. In this regard, it considers that the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM), adopted under the auspices of the IAEA, is an important element in combating nuclear terrorism. It actively contributes to the strengthening of its provisions and has engaged in the preparatory work required to ratify the 2005 amendment to this Convention.

Other international initiatives

More generally, France supports international initiatives which help to combat proliferation and reduce the risk of the hostile or terrorist use of nuclear and radioactive materials. It takes part in collective efforts made under the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT)
, in the European Union and within the G8

Concrete actions

On the ground, France is also taking action to prevent the risk of terrorist attacks. In 2002, it worked closely with the IAEA in seeking, locating and making secure “orphan” radioactive sources in Georgia. In 2003, in conjunction with the authorities of Côte d’Ivoire and the IAEA, it removed an irradiator and its caesium sources from Côte d’Ivoire.

In 2009, France likewise extended the Practical Arrangement it concluded with the IAEA and which aims to establish a French Cooperation and Support Plan to help implement the IAEA’s Plan of Activities to Protect against Nuclear Terrorism and its Nuclear Security Plan.

The Support Plan is coordinated by the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA). It is the cooperation mechanism through which the French Government can provide technical support to the IAEA’s Plan of Activities and the work the IAEA conducts in the areas of nuclear security and protection against nuclear terrorism.

It mainly concerns issues related to physical protection, security of radiation sources, improvement of national systems and accession to relevant international instruments. Its main objective is to enhance national capabilities in organizing security, laws, methodology and expertise issues and more generally, a culture of security.

Under the Plan, France has, inter alia, taken part in a number of IAEA expert missions and enabled Pakistan, for example, to acquire vehicles to confiscate and detect nuclear and radioactive material at borders. Also under this Plan, an inventory and appraisal mission was conducted prior to an operation to recover radioactive sources in Madagascar.

Nuclear Security Summit (April 2010)

On the sidelines of the G8 meeting in Aquila, President Obama announced that a Nuclear Security Summit is to be held on 12 and 13 April 2010. France will play its full role in preparing this high-profile event. It will especially strive to ensure that it is an opportunity to make existing tools more effective with more coordinated efforts.

Inventory of Nuclear Material in an Emergency

At the government’s request, the French Institute for Radioprotection and Nuclear Security (IRSN) regularly conducts inventory exercises of nuclear material in a facility in an emergency situation. Such exercises are designed to test the decision-making chain and the coordination of the people involved (manufacturers, government). They consist in conducting an inventory of nuclear material in one or more facilities over the course of a few hours to confirm or deny the existence of hostile acts (theft, nuclear material diversion, sabotage).

Source: IRSN 2008 Report

For more information

- Read the French National Statement (French)
- Website of the Presidency of the Republic




The Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT), which today has 76 participating States, aims to build national and international capabilities to combat the threat of nuclear terrorism and prevent terrorists from accessing nuclear and radioactive material. Regional and global exchanges are held to:
- Improve the security of facilities and technology used to combat nuclear terrorism;
- Widely disseminate a culture of security of installations, nuclear materials and radiological substances.


The G8

The G8 adopted six principles at the Kananaskis Summit in 2002 to ensure that nuclear, radiological, biological and chemical materials do not fall into the hands of terrorists: 1) the universalization and strengthening of the treaties and institutions concerned; 2) securing of the production and storage of sensitive items; 3) physical protection of facilities; 4) tightening of border controls; 5) measures for physical control of exports and transhipments; 6) management of stocks of fissile materials, the elimination of chemical weapons, and control of dangerous pathogens.

This Partnership with Russia, then later Russia and Ukraine, aims to reduce the threat of non-conventional weapons arsenals (nuclear, biological and chemical) being maintained in the former Soviet Union. In the wake of the G8 initiative, a specific action plan on securing radioactive sources was adopted at the Evian Summit in June 2003. France is taking an active role in this Partnership and continues to make efforts to ensure that the Partnership remains focused on combating proliferation and the risk of non-conventional weapons being diverted for terrorist purposes.