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Responding to Terrorism's Evolving Threat

Nuclear Forensics from the UK's Perspective

Susan le Jeune d'Allegeershecque

Ambassador Susan le Jeune d'Allegeershecque. (Photo: S. Henriques/IAEA)

President of this week's International Conference on Advances in Nuclear Forensics: Countering the Evolving Threat of Nuclear and Other Radioactive Material out of Regulatory Control, Ambassador to Austria and UK Permanent Representative to the UN and other International Organisations in Vienna, Susan le Jeune d'Allegeershecque, talks about the Conference's potential impact and the UK's perspective on nuclear forensics:

How can nuclear forensics best be applied at the national level?

"Awareness and understanding of the conduct of a nuclear forensics examination is essential. Ensuring that everyone involved in a nuclear forensic examination - from those who collect the evidence, to those who document and initiate controls over the evidence, to the people developing an analytical plan, to laboratory examiners and analysts involved in the analysis of the radioactive material or other evidence contaminated with radionuclides, as well as consumers of this information - understands that our confidence in nuclear forensics conclusions depends on the integrity of each step in the examination.

"A reliable analytical plan needs to be in place before a sample vial is opened to conduct the analysis.

"A court case can be compromised if the chain of custody is broken. Additionally, we need to have a clear understanding of existing national analytical capabilities and expertise that can be applied or adapted to a nuclear forensics examination so they can be used effectively during a nuclear security event.

"Defining roles and responsibilities is essential. For this reason, implementing the technical guidance provided by the IAEA and other national partners is extremely valuable. It allows us to design a nuclear forensics capability compatible with the context of nuclear and other radioactive materials used, produced, or stored within each country."

Why is the United Kingdom interested in nuclear forensics and the outcomes from this week's IAEA International Conference on Advances in Nuclear Forensics?

"The United Kingdom takes the threat from nuclear terrorism seriously. Reports of terrorist acts unfortunately continue particularly those involving unstable states. The only effective response to this dynamic and evolving threat is to stay one step ahead. This is nowhere more important than in the case of a terrorist act involving nuclear or other radioactive materials, where the potential effects could be catastrophic. The United Kingdom recognizes nuclear forensics as an important component of our ability to prevent and respond to acts of nuclear and radiological terrorism by providing information on the origin and history of nuclear and other radioactive materials potentially used for malicious purposes.

"In this regard the United Kingdom recently established our own dedicated nuclear forensics laboratory.

"This Conference is important for the United Kingdom because it will provide a comprehensive look at nuclear forensics. Not only will the science be addressed by experts with an eye to sharing best practice, we will also look at the role of nuclear forensics in the nuclear security infrastructure. We want to ensure that evidence is collected, analysed and interpreted with the highest possible confidence in the conclusions of that work, so we can respond effectively to a nuclear security incident.

"Nuclear forensics is a key link between detection strategies, management of a radiological crime scene, information analysis of nuclear and other materials out of regulatory control, and potential criminal prosecutions. Having so many experts all together in Vienna to focus on the central role of nuclear forensics is a unique opportunity."

What, in your view, does the future hold for nuclear forensics after this Conference?

"Through this meeting we hope to learn about the best practice from experts around the world and identify future priorities such as how the IAEA can best assist Member States in nuclear forensics. Improvement in analytical methods, development of technical guidelines, the needs of law enforcement, optimized laboratory design, nuclear forensic libraries and databases, the use of analytical standards for nuclear forensics, interfaces with national and international legislation and the sustainability of nuclear forensics are all topics that will be explored this week.

"Sharing lessons learned from around the world at this international Conference will allow us to set the right path for the future.

"It is clear that harmonized approaches to nuclear forensic implementation on a regional and national basis will help nuclear forensics implementation globally. Networks and centres of excellence are one option. International cooperation is vital; by sharing a common commitment to the role of nuclear forensics, the stature of the global security arrangements directly benefits.

"If the right science is in place, if trained experts are available, if procedures are developed and exercised, and if nuclear forensics can be used to prosecute those who engage in malicious acts using nuclear and other radioactive materials out of regulatory control, nuclear forensics will prevent future incidents."


- By Sasha Henriques, IAEA Office of Public Information and Communication

(Note to Media: We encourage you to republish these stories and kindly request attribution to the IAEA)