Turkey, Balkans fight nuclear trafficking


Governments are co-operating with international law enforcement bodies to address the threat.

By Menekse Tokyay for Southeast European Times in Istanbul -- 02/01/14


Turkey has increased border security to counter nuclear smuggling. [AFP]

Turkey and Eastern European countries are increasing efforts to address unlawful trafficking in nuclear materials.

Approximately 75 officials from 13 countries in the Caucasus and Eastern Europe gathered in Antalya last month to promote national and regional co-operation to counter nuclear smuggling. The three-day training was organised in co-operation with the Turkish National Police, Interpol and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The countries that were represented in the training included Albania, Armenia, Bulgaria, Georgia, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Romania, Tajikistan, Turkey, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

Addressing the conference, Deputy Director General of the Turkish National Police Zeki Catalkaya said international co-operation is necessary to prevent nuclear terrorism.

"No single country can be successful in fighting the threat alone; it requires regional and international collaboration. There are weapons of mass destruction in our region. For us, this is a reality and we must be prepared," Catalkaya said.

According to a statement from Interpol, "the development and deployment of Counter Nuclear Smuggling Teams in order to mitigate the illicit trafficking of nuclear and other radiological materials" was also a key issue.

Mustafa Kibaroglu, a professor of international relations at Istanbul's Okan University, agreed that anti-smuggling operations are central to preventing nuclear terrorism.

"In that sense, fighting against the trafficking of nuclear and radiological material worldwide gains extreme importance," Kibaroglu told SETimes.

"Turkey, being located at the crossroads of continents, is considered to be one of the critical countries whose contribution to the international fight against smuggling activities becomes highly crucial."

Kibaroglu added that Turkey's role is significant not only for maintaining a safer and more secure world order, but also for its own security.

"Turkish authorities have since the beginning paid utmost attention to the prevention of trafficking of nuclear as well as other material illegally, not only because of its treaty obligations but also because of national security considerations," he said.

Turkey's fight against nuclear trafficking dates back to the 1990s. In 1993, it added trafficking of nuclear and radioactive materials to the list of criminal public offences, also boosting legal, technical and police measures to address the problem. The efforts gained urgency following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, when there were increasing attempts to smuggle sensitive nuclear material out of former Soviet republics.

"Many such attempts were [disrupted] by Turkish security units, in collaboration with Interpol and other relevant institutions, in due course, some on Turkish territory, and some others in the Black Sea basin countries and the Caucasus region," Kibaroglu said.

In 2009, the Customs Directorate and Turkish Atomic Energy Authority (TAEK) signed a protocol on radiation detection at customs in order to fight against nuclear smuggling.

However, for Kibaroglu, national-level efforts may not be fully sufficient to prevent nuclear smuggling activities, and international cooperation is vital, especially in the field of intelligence sharing.

"It is, therefore, necessary for those countries that are currently a little reluctant in co-operating in these areas to join the ranks of those states that actively fight against illegal networks before they regret not having cooperated after becoming the victims of nuclear terrorism," he said.

Since 2001 Turkey has co-operated with Greece on anti-nuclear smuggling under law 4654.

Speaking to SETimes, Dr Necmi Dayday, a former safeguards inspector and evaluator at the IAEA, said that between 1993 and 2010, 104 incidents were reported and 67 people were arrested by police officers of the Police Anti-smuggling and Organised Crime Directorate of the Turkish Ministry of Interior.

"Only 17 of them turned out to involve uranium. In few cases they involve depleted uranium, the rest were natural or low enriched uranium of no significant quantities," Dayday said.

Dayday added that according to police reports, nuclear material smuggled through Turkey originates in former Soviet countries, while the ultimate destination cannot be determined with certainty.

"A number of incidents apparently involve amateurs who acquired or tried to acquire nuclear materials even before identifying any potential buyers, and who sought to peddle material of little or no utility at all for illicit uses," he said.

According to Dayday, the number of cases indicates that Turkey may be a significant shipment route for clandestine efforts to buy or sell nuclear material originating in the former Soviet Union because of its geographical location and the volume of commercial activities between the neighbouring countries.

However, he added that Turkey is a transhipment route for nuclear materials, not a "black market state."

According to the latest report by Turkey's Department Of Anti-Smuggling and Organised Crime under the Turkish National Police, nuclear smuggling involves mainly americium, caesium, scandium and uranium.

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"Turkey's proximity to the source countries of these materials and the ethnic conflicts and civil wars in the neighbouring countries are considered to be significant risk factors in terms of smuggling of dangerous materials into and through Turkey," the report said.

"Smuggling of chemical, biologic, radioactive, and nuclear materials are matters of grave consequences posing increasing threat to whole world. Therefore, any information or intelligence regarding smuggling of these materials is meticulously evaluated and acted in co-operation with other stakeholder institutions."

World leaders are expected to meet again in The Hague, the Netherlands, in March at the Nuclear Security Summit, where improving international cooperation and security of nuclear material sources will be discussed in detail.

What do you think can be done to counter nuclear smuggling? Share your thoughts in the comments area.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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