The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, has warned that the world faces a real threat from nuclear terrorism. Speaking at a conference in Sydney, Mr. ElBaradei said an extensive black market in radioactive materials is increasing the danger. He also saw signs of hope in an agreement to end a dispute over Iran's nuclear programs.
Mohammed ElBaradei says the world is engaged in a "race against time" to control the spread of nuclear material. At an international security meeting in Sydney, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency warned that action was needed to prevent a nuclear or radioactive emergency.
Delegates at the meeting were told that over the past decade, the I.A.E.A. has uncovered a thriving trade in nuclear and radioactive materials. Mr. ElBaradei said Monday this illegal traffic highlights the inadequacy of current controls. He says increased vigilance is needed everywhere, even in Asia.
"In Asia-Pacific you have a lot of nuclear material, you have a lot of radioactive sources. This is a danger that can occur anywhere," said Mr. ElBaradei. "We need not wait to see the kind of situation like [the attacks on] 9/11 or Chernobyl for the international community to act."
Mr. ElBaradei also said that an agreement brokered in Paris to end a dispute over Iran's nuclear programs is a "step in the right direction."
Britain, France and Germany are reportedly close to signing a trade deal that would see Tehran suspend its efforts to enrich uranium, which can be used to make bombs.
The United States says Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons. Iranian officials insist the technology they are developing is simply to produce energy for peaceful purposes.
Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says Iran must comply with I.A.E.A. resolutions calling for it to halt enrichment efforts.
"The truth is, if they proceed with enrichment that is going to send a very, very negative message to the international community," said Mr. Downer. "There's no doubt that the level of concern in the international community about nuclear proliferation has been substantially heightened."
The conference in Sydney was organized to help the Asia-Pacific region make a concerted effort to keep nuclear and radioactive materials out of the hands of rogue states and extremists.
Mr. Downer says the "awful consequences of nuclear terrorism" made it imperative for the world to take this threat seriously.