Bill passed to impose death penalty for nuclear terror

Second Minister for Home Affairs Desmond Lee said the threat of nuclear terror attacks here must be taken seriously.
Second Minister for Home Affairs Desmond Lee said the threat of nuclear terror attacks here must be taken seriously.

The threat of a nuclear and radioactive terror attack in Singapore must be taken seriously, even if the likelihood is currently remote, Second Minister for Home Affairs Desmond Lee said.

This is why a mandatory death sentence will be imposed on those who carry out a lethal radioactive attack, Mr Lee added yesterday, when Parliament passed the Terrorism (Suppression of Misuse of Radioactive Material) Bill.

He also said the chances of a nuclear terrorist attack in South-east Asia are low as regional terror elements are not known to have the capability to build nuclear devices and are more likely to use conventional explosives.

But the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has heightened the global threat of nuclear or radioactive devices, he added.

ISIS had said in 2015 that it intended to attack the US with a nuclear device or explosives.

It also has access to funds and a global network of supporters that conceivably can build a crude improvised nuclear device, he said.

"As such, we cannot discount the possibility of ISIS or its supporters getting hold of nuclear material to carry out a terror attack against us or other countries," he added.

This is especially so when many countries, including those in this region, use or are actively exploring the use of nuclear energy, he added.

For instance, Malaysia arrested eight people in February for the theft of iridium-192, a radioactive material that can be used to make dirty bombs.

Mr Lee said Singapore is a signatory of the United Nations' International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, which seeks to prevent nuclear terrorism by making such acts a crime.

The Terrorism (Suppression of Misuse of Radioactive Material) Bill will thus ratify, or give domestic legal effect to, the convention.

The legislation, among other things, makes it an offence to use radioactive material to threaten, injure or kill, or cause damage to property and the environment.

Nominated MP Mahdev Mohan asked why Singapore was ratifying the UN convention now when it was signed in 2006.

Mr Lee said the authorities have been working to meet the convention's requirements.

For instance, the National Environment Agency and the Singapore Civil Defence Force have developed the required capabilities to deal with the illicit use of nuclear and radioactive material in Singapore.

Associate Professor Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC) asked what measures are in place to deal with a nuclear terrorist attack, while Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) asked about the threat from other types of hazardous material such as chemical and biological agents.

Replying, Mr Lee said there is an inter-agency committee to oversee nuclear safety and security and it continually assesses the threat.

Likewise, there are similar committees looking at the biological and chemical threat.

Should an attack occur, all government resources will be mobilised, including the Singapore Armed Forces, he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 09, 2017, with the headline 'Bill passed to impose death penalty for nuclear terror'. Print Edition | Subscribe