UN warns of nuclear risk if $20m can't be raised for IT overhaul

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The Independent Online

The UN's nuclear watchdog has issued a plea for nearly $20m (£11.1m) to replace its decrepit 20-year-old IT system, which it claims is stifling its ability to track radioactive material.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is charged with countering the proliferation of nuclear weapons, has asked its 23 member states for a contribution to the new computer system.

But only the US and UK have so far stumped up money - $9m and $3.1m respectively - and IAEA officials are becoming worried that they won't be able to raise the necessary funds.

A spokesman said: "Our workload is rising faster than available resources. [The current system] has been maintained for over 20 years, increasing the risk of errors. With our current IT system, extracting information can take hours and days, making timely analysis of relevant data difficult. [And] without renewal of the IT system, implementation of integrated safe- guards will be very difficult."

Known as the Safeguards Information System, the computer is used to process, store and analyse data received from IAEA inspectors. The agency wants to develop a new system that offers inspectors secure on-line access to secret information on nuclear movements.

Nigel Griffiths, a minister at the Department of Trade and Industry, said: "Countering the proliferation of nuclear weapons is a priority of the Government and [the] international community. The IAEA has a central role in this area. This is why the [computer] project is so important. I very much hope that [the UK's] donation will encourage other countries to come forward with funding."

The DTI said that "failure to replace the hardware and software now would carry high risks".

The IAEA is expected to ask the DTI for a further contribution towards the system. When asked if the UK and the US might be called on again for money, the IAEA spokesman said: "We will continue to ask all of our member states to support this important project."