News FocusNONPROLIFERATION

An Unending Mission to Contain the Stuff of Nuclear Nightmares

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Science  04 Jun 2010:
Vol. 328, Issue 5983, pp. 1222-1224
DOI: 10.1126/science.328.5983.1222

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Summary

Fears of terrorism have added new urgency to the goal of preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons, which was the subject of international deliberations held in New York City last month to review the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The task at the core of nonproliferation efforts, however, remains what it has been for decades: keeping track of nuclear materials and sites to ensure that countries do not make bombs, either in secret or under the pretext of developing nuclear power. It's a daunting scientific and technological challenge. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)—the world's nuclear watchdog—has traditionally met that challenge by dispatching inspectors to nuclear sites to verify the designs of facilities and carry out measurements of materials at different points of the fuel cycle. But nonproliferation experts acknowledge that this system of spot checks leaves open the possibility of covert activities between inspections. That's why in recent years, IAEA has sought new safeguards that would enable the agency to monitor nuclear facilities remotely around the clock, keeping tabs on equipment and materials with greater assurance than before.