Mohamed Elbaradei 'Make nuclear weapons a taboo, like slavery'

From the acceptance speech delivered at the Nobel awards ceremony in Oslo by the head of the IAEA, winner of the 2005 Peace Prize

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To that end, we must ensure - absolutely - that no more countries acquire these deadly weapons. We must see to it that nuclear-weapon states take concrete steps towards nuclear disarmament. And we must put in place a security system that does not rely on nuclear deterrence.

Are these goals realistic? I do believe they are. But three steps are urgently required. First, keep nuclear and radiological material out of the hands of extremist groups. In 2001, the IAEA, together with the international community, launched a worldwide campaign to enhance the security of such material. In four years, we have completed perhaps 50 per cent of the work. But this is not fast enough, because we are in a race against time.

Second, tighten control over the operations for producing the nuclear material that could be used in weapons. We must also strengthen the verification system. IAEA inspections are the heart and soul of the nuclear non-proliferation regime.

Third, accelerate disarmament efforts. We still have eight or nine countries who possess nuclear weapons. We still have 27,000 warheads in existence. I believe this is 27,000 too many. A good start would be if the nuclear-weapon states reduced the strategic role given to these weapons. More than 15 years after the end of the Cold War, it is incomprehensible that the major nuclear-weapon states operate with their arsenals on hair-trigger alert - such that, in case of a possible nuclear attack, their leaders could have only 30 minutes to decide whether to retaliate.

These are three concrete steps that can readily be taken. Protect the material and strengthen verification. Control the fuel cycle. Accelerate disarmament efforts. But that is not enough. The hard part is: how do we create an environment in which nuclear weapons - like slavery or genocide - are regarded as a taboo and a historical anomaly?

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