Member states of the International Atomic Energy Agency should work together to boost security around radioactive sources, the body's deputy director said on Sunday.

"We should all work together ... to achieve one common goal: protecting people, society and the environment from the harmful effects of ionising radiation that may occur through the inadvertent or malicious use of radioactive sources," Denis Flory said.

Flory was speaking at the opening of a five-day IAEA conference on safety and security around radioactive sources in Abu Dhabi.

Radioactive sources are used in agriculture, industry, medicine and research, mostly in controlled environments, but there are fears that violent groups could try to use them in harmful ways.

The IAEA says on its website that it has categorised radioactive sources, "to identify those types that require particular attention for safety and security reasons."

These include certain sources used for medical and industrial purposes, the agency says.

"When safely used and regulated, the social and economic benefits from the many applications of radioactive sources are high," the IAEA website says.

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