By Michael Eboh
THE Federal Government has expressed concerns over the safety of nuclear and radioactive materials in the country and the rest of the world, noting that Nigeria was fully aware of the global concerns towards the proliferation of nuclear weapons and had taken steps to contribute to global efforts aimed at tackling this issue.
This was even as the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, UNOCT, also warned that the possibility of terrorists gaining access to nuclear and radioactive materials and the threat it poses to global security was becoming increasingly real. The National Security Adviser, NSA, to the President, Major General Mohammed Monguno (Retd.) and the UNOCT gave this charge in Abuja, at an international workshop, tagged, ‘Valiant Eagle: Response Coordination and Legal Frameworks,’ organised by the Nigerian Nuclear Regulatory Authority, NNRA; Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, GICNT; and the United Nations Office of Counter Terrorism, UNOCT, UN Counter Terrorism Centre (UNCCT). Nigeria had in 2017 signed an agreement with Rosatom for the development of nuclear power plants in Nigeria for electricity generation. The country also has a number of nuclear and radioactive facilities across the country, especially in the oil and gas sector.
Monguno advised African countries to improve on their preparedness for nuclear emergencies through the development of appropriate response strategies. He said: “Nigeria accords high priority to all global efforts towards ending the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, including nuclear weapons, and is very much aware of the prevailing international anxiety over nuclear security and proliferation of nuclear weapons. This made Nigeria to play a major role in the negotiations leading to the coming into force of the African Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treaty.” Monguno, who was represented by one of his aides, Mr. Aliyu Aminu, lamented that while nuclear security events come with their own set of challenges, response principles often remain the same across different types of mass casualty incidents. He further called for strong regional collaboration among African nations to tackle the issue of nuclear terrorism and boost their response to nuclear emergencies. He said: “Though response to a nuclear security incident is unique, many of the same legal frameworks and emergency response procedures developed for natural disasters or other national-level emergencies could be adapted to meet this challenge.
“Furthermore, this type of event may require the impacted country to notify its neighbours and request international assistance to execute an effective response. This is why this workshop is very important so that African nations can start developing strong regional coordination procedures and legal frameworks to ensuring preparedness for response to nuclear security incident of this nature, which would have impacts beyond national boundaries.”
Monguno noted that the office of NSA was committed to ensuring the formulation and implementation of a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy, build capacity for the effective discharge of the functions of relevant security, intelligence, law enforcement, military services and relevant institutions in Nigeria. He reaffirmed Nigeria’s commitment to the global fight against the threat of nuclear terrorism and other forms of terrorism in all their manifestations. The NSA also added that Nigeria would continue to support multilateral efforts to advance a common approach and commitment to nuclear security at the highest level in Africa and across the globe.
Also speaking, Mr. Ulrika Ahnfeldt-Mollerup, Chief of the Capacity Building Unit, UNCCT, UNOCT, disclosed that the possibility of terrorists gaining access to nuclear and radiological materials was a significant threat to humanity and international peace and security. According to him, the possibility of such materials falling into the hands of non-state actors or terrorists groups is certainly very real. He said: “In 2016, it was reported that ISIL had been monitoring an official working a nuclear research facility in Belgium, which resulted in the lockdown of two nuclear power plants under suspicion of an attempt to attack, infiltrate or sabotage the facilities. In June 2018, it was reported that ISIL had seized 40 kilogramme of low enriched uranium from scientific institutions at the Mosul University in Iraq.
“The International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, in its Incident and Trafficking Database, lists more than 3,000 incidents involving illicit trafficking and other unauthorized activities involving nuclear and radioactive materials reported by member states. Of these incidents, almost 300 involved a confirmed or likely act of trafficking or malicious use and a further 900 did not have sufficient information to determine if it is related to trafficking or malicious use or not.
“At the same time, with advancements in cyberspace, the dark web has increasingly become an important illegal marketplace, one which ISIL and other non-State actors have been known to exploit for propaganda and fundraising purposes. The dark web is also a market that has been used to buy and sell radioactive materials.”
Ahnfeldt-Mollerup added: “Given the devastating physical and psychological impact associated with the threat or use of radiological and nuclear weapons and materials, radiological and nuclear terrorism is an issue of particular concern and justifies considerable attention to prevent such weapons or materials from falling into the wrong hands.
“Therefore, the development of robust regional coordination and legal frameworks is crucial to ensuring preparedness for responding to incidents of a nature that can have implications beyond national borders.”