By Tom Miles
GENEVA (Reuters) - New global rules aimed at stopping terrorists getting hold of nuclear materials should finally come into force in 2014 - nine years after countries agreed they were sorely needed, a senior U.N. official said on Monday.
An amendment to the 1980 Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) was agreed in 2005 but has not yet been ratified by two-thirds of parties to the CPPNM needed for it to come into force.
"A lot of efforts are going ahead to speed up the process to ensure that by 2014 this amendment will enter into force," Khammar Mrabit, director of nuclear security at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said on Monday.
He told a seminar in Geneva the revised treaty would ensure "global physical protection of nuclear material, and also (help prevent) sabotage of such material and such facilities."
Whereas the CPPNM covered only the international transport of nuclear material, the amendment includes its use, storage and domestic transport - meaning international cooperation would increase in those areas and breaking the new rules would be a crime.
"This is a big change, a big improvement," Mrabit said.
Fifty-nine states have already adopted the amendment and 40 more are needed for it to come into force.
The IAEA believes terrorist groups trying to get hold of nuclear weapons on the black market are becoming more sophisticated and more effort was needed to prevent them getting a "dirty bomb" to contaminate a major city.
As an example of the fruits of international cooperation, Mrabit cited a sting operation in Moldova in 2011 that seized highly enriched uranium. Although the amounts involved in such incidents are sometimes only 10 grams (0.4 oz), they are the tip of the iceberg, he said, since they may be a sample for a bigger sale.
The IAEA's Illicit Trafficking Database and has recorded 2,242 unauthorized incidents in 118 states since 1995. Materials used for nuclear weapons - highly enriched uranium and plutonium - accounted for 1.5 percent and 0.7 percent respectively.
(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)