Could Shared Databases Prevent Nuclear War?By Reuters | Posted 03-06-2008
International databases to share information about nuclear and radioactive materials are urgently needed to help deter potential nuclear threats, a team of scientific and policy experts said on Thursday.
More than 70 experts from Britain, the United States, Russia, Israel and the rest of Europe said in a report published by Britain's Royal Society that such databases would make it easier to track and determine the source of these materials.
The ability to do this could present a powerful deterrent to would-be suppliers of illicit nuclear goods knowing that they could more easily be found out, said Roger Cashmore of the University of Oxford, who led the group that wrote the report.
The databases should come as part of a two-step process that includes improved systems to detect nuclear and radioactive materials on the move, he added.
"Consistent international materials databases, used alongside surveillance and intelligence, will undoubtedly improve the prevention of nuclear threats and will build international confidence in nuclear security," the report reads.
A report commissioned by the U.S.-based Nuclear Threat Initiative last year cited significant progress safeguarding and removing vulnerable nuclear stockpiles globally, but said dangerous gaps persisted in Russia, Pakistan and elsewhere.
The Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is looking at ways to better pool information but quicker action is needed, Cashmore said.
"If countries are really worried about terrorism they need to get together," he said. "This is starting to happen but it needs to happen more."
The participants, who included representatives from the U.S Department of Homeland Security and the IAEA along with a number of academic researchers, issued their report after a two-day meeting in December.
A main finding was the need for countries with a nuclear power industry or nuclear weapons to share technical data on things like the types of nuclear fuel used by power stations or nuclear material used for defense.
This would give authorities better tools to trace the source of smuggled material or, in a worst case scenario, a nuclear incident, the report said.
The report noted the potential difficulties of sharing sensitive military and commercial details but said the threats from smuggled material offset those concerns.
"Currently this process could take months but if international information was shared, it could take weeks or even days," Cashmore said. "Such efficiency would act as a strong deterrent to potential smugglers."