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Interdisciplinary and Interregional Cooperation Essential to Nuclear Forensic Success

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Participants listen during the International Conference on Advances in Nuclear Forensics. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

In recent years, crime and terrorism have become more sophisticated, more regional and far more global in reach and scope. For States to effectively respond to these challenges, increased collaboration is essential.

This is just one of the conclusions of the International Conference on Advances in Nuclear Forensics: Countering the Evolving Threat of Nuclear and Other Radioactive Material out of Regulatory Control held at IAEA headquarters in Vienna from 7 to 10 July 2014.

Attended by more than 335 participants from 86 IAEA Member States and 10 organizations, including nuclear forensics experts, law enforcement officials, policy makers and national representatives, this was the first international conference dedicated exclusively to the role of nuclear forensics within a nuclear security infrastructure.

In addition to recognizing the need for strengthening cooperation, the Conference concluded that:

  • Continual innovation is needed in nuclear forensics;
  • States need to recognize that it is not just the instruments that are used, but how they are used that determines the resulting strength of nuclear forensic findings; and
  • Nuclear forensics examinations should incorporate the expertise of companion disciplines such as geochemistry, materials science, nuclear engineering and environmental science, which can provide new information in terms of nuclear forensic signatures and interpretation, as well as provide access to new subject matter experts to build confidence in nuclear forensic conclusions.

More general conclusions included the realizations that:

  • Nuclear forensics is an essential tool to prevent and respond to acts involving nuclear and other radioactive materials out of regulatory control;
  • Nuclear forensics requires written procedures, standards and trained personnel to support law enforcement investigations and nuclear security vulnerability assessments associated with illicit trafficking;
  • As the threat from malicious acts involving nuclear and other radioactive materials persists, nuclear forensics depends upon innovative science and methodologies to identify the origin and history of these materials as part of an investigation of a nuclear security event;
  • States need to use existing technical capabilities and subject matter experts they already have to build a national nuclear forensics capability consistent with guidance from the IAEA on the conduct of a nuclear forensics examination; and
  • Many States have also developed or are initiating a nuclear forensics capability as part of national response plans for addressing a nuclear security event.

International cooperation led by the IAEA is critical to ensure consistent practice of nuclear forensics and share lessons learned in application of as well as access to international and regional expertise in nuclear forensics.

Conference participants agreed that last week's meeting, the first of its kind, was a significant step toward furthering cooperation among nuclear scientists, law enforcement officers and criminal prosecutors with regard to utilizing nuclear forensics to prevent and respond to a nuclear security event.

Last update: 27 Jul 2017

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