Vienna, Sep 19: Shipping controls meant to stop radioactive material falling into the wrong hands are also making it harder to ship substances used in medicine, said an adviser to the UN nuclear watchdog.
Transporting radioactive material used in cancer treatments, manufacturing, or to fuel nuclear power plants had never been easy, said Jack Edlow, head of a committee examining denials of shipment permission at the International Atomic Energy Agency.
But the situation had worsened substantially after governments tightened security at international entry points like airports and harbours following the September 11 attacks on the United States, Edlow told journalists.
He said a mixture of government and company policies led to many shipments being turned down. ''We worked around it for a long time, we often said if this carrier doesn't take it we find someone else,'' Edlow said on the margins of the IAEA's General Conference. ''But it has gotten so bad now that we don't have any options left.''
Of some 30 million radioactive shipments made every year, 80 percent contain medical supplies like cobalt often used in developing nations for radiotherapy treatment, he said. ''Turkey has wanted to buy a new cobalt source for therapy and we cannot get it to Turkey at this point because it cannot pass through the Italian port system,'' said Edlow, adding Italy required one year's notice of transit.
While a database to record shipment denials was set up only recently, experience showed incidents were on the up, he said. Michael Wangler, head of the IAEA's Safety Transport of Radioactive Materials unit, said neither safety reasons nor past incidents warranted so much concern from shipping companies.
''The transport of radioactive materials is a very safe activity,'' he said. ''Regulations have firmly been established.'' Edlow gave the example of the United States, which he said had installed detectors for radioactive materials at ports to fight illicit trade.
The devices were also set off by normal radioactive freight, causing delays and prompting many carriers not to accept such cargoes, he said.
''Radioactive cargoes are no different than explosives or corrosives,'' said Edlow. ''All the member states should come together and solve the problem ... and carriers need to be pressured by the governments.''