The IAEA does some of its best work when it's creating opportunities and facilities for smart, talented people from around the world to meet each other, exchange information, train each other and eventually solve their own problems.
"Creating such opportunities is one of the things we do in nuclear forensics," says Khammar Mrabit, Director of the IAEA Office of Nuclear Security.
The IAEA is a leading member of a network that includes about a dozen international forensics laboratories. This network allows its members access to leading forensic experts and state of the art analytical facilities when investigating crimes.
By signing an agreement with the IAEA, the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI) became the newest addition to the network, bringing its decades of experience in traditional forensic expertise - like hair and fibres analysis - to the table.
What is Nuclear Forensics?
Nuclear forensics is something like the TV series CSI, but without all the blood and shell casings. It's the science of uncovering the origin and history of nuclear materials, especially those found at a crime scene.
"So as you might guess, expertise in this area is very important to countries trying to control the movement of radioactive materials within their borders, and for countries where nuclear and radiological materials are used. And since these are used in almost every country in areas from medicine to construction, nuclear forensics is of universal importance," says Mrabit.
As part of the agreement, NFI and the IAEA will partner to develop best practices in radiological crime scene management, nuclear forensics and cyber forensics applied to nuclear security.
The agreement provides the IAEA access to law enforcement and traditional forensics databases that include hair, fibres, fingerprints, DNA and explosive residues.
Many cases of trafficking and attempted acts of terrorism have been solved using traditional and nuclear forensic techniques. And countries, with the assistance of the IAEA, are then able to prosecute those who are responsible for diverting nuclear or radioactive material outside of regulatory control.
Learning Something New
A joint IAEA - NFI nuclear and traditional forensics training programme will be launched in 2013 at the NFI Academy.
The NFI Academy is a world-class training facility with law enforcement and technical forensic experts, an array of scenario-based exercises, and a realistic training environment.
"Forensics is only as good as its weakest link. If the police officer on the crime scene contaminates the evidence before the experts get a look at it, the investigation will go nowhere. That's why training and education of everyone involved in frontline national security is crucial," says David Smith, Senior Nuclear Security Officer at the IAEA.