Illicit Trafficking of Weapons-Usable Nuclear Material: Facts and Uncertainties

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In the recent past the issue of covert trade in nuclear material gained public prominence when it was erroneously claimed by British intelligence sources that the former Government of Iraq under Saddam Hussein had tried to obtain uranium from Niger. The far reaching consequences of such assessments for society were clearly demonstrated by U.S. President George W. Bush in his speech on January 28, 2003, using this incorrect information as one of the reasons why terrorists and countries belonging to the "Axis of Evil" posed a potential nuclear threat. In view of the occurrence of such significant errors even in the intelligence community, it is not surprising that information in the media on the topic of illicit trafficking of nuclear material is frequently flawed by errors.

In order to avoid the pitfalls of evaluating important security-related decisions from questionable sources of information, this paper discusses only the most reliable currently available data on illicit trafficking of weapons-usable nuclear material, contained in the Database on Nuclear Smuggling, Theft, and Orphan Radiation Sources.

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