OSLO -- Fifteen years after the end of the Cold War, the risk of nuclear disaster is as great as ever with terrorists zealously pursuing atomic weapons, chief UN nuclear inspector Mohamed ElBaradei said yesterday in accepting the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize.
ElBaradei and the International Atomic Energy Agency he leads received the award in the Norwegian capital for their efforts to control the spread of nuclear weapons -- a job ElBaradei nearly lost because of a dispute with the United States over Iran and Iraq.
''We are in a race against time," the 63-year-old Egyptian said about efforts to keep nuclear weapons away from terrorists. ''In four years, we have completed perhaps 50 percent of the work. But this is not fast enough."
To escape self-destruction, the world must make atomic weapons as much of a taboo as slavery or genocide, ElBaradei said in his acceptance speech. It has been 60 years since the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, yet the world is still deeply concerned over nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea.
The Bush administration has bristled at ElBaradei's positions on the nuclear threat posed by Iran and Iraq and unsuccessfully lobbied to block his appointment to a third and final four-year term this year.
ElBaradei and the IAEA clashed with Washington in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq war by challenging US assertions that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. No such weapons were ever found.
More recently, ElBaradei's refusal to back US assertions that Iran has a covert nuclear weapons program hardened opposition to him within the Bush administration.
As ElBaradei received his peace award, Iran's top nuclear official said his country would enrich uranium and produce nuclear fuel, despite an international drive to curb such efforts. Gholamreza Aghazadeh, head of the Atomic Organization of Iran, did not say when the processes would begin. Iran denies its nuclear program is aimed at developing weapons.
The Nobel prizes are always presented on Dec. 10, the anniversary of the 1896 death of their founder, Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel. The prizes in literature, physics, chemistry, medicine, and economics were handed out in Stockholm.
Literature prize winner Harold Pinter could not travel to Sweden to accept his award because of poor health. Pinter, 75, has been treated for cancer in recent years. The British playwright's publisher accepted the award on his behalf.
In Oslo, a smiling ElBaradei and the IAEA's chairman of the board of governors, Yukiya Amano of Japan, accepted the Peace Prize to applause from a crowd that included Norway's King Harald V and Queen Sonja.
ElBaradei said his half of the $1.3 million prize would go to orphanages in his native Egypt, while the IAEA planned to establish a fund for cancer and nutritional research.
Ole Danbolt, awards committee chairman, praised the winners' efforts to curb the spread of nuclear weapons. He also reminded the world of the horrible consequences of using such weapons.
''The atom bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki 60 years ago," he said. ''Since then, the world has been united in the wish that nothing like that must ever happen again."