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Statement to International Conference on Advances in Nuclear Forensics

Thank you, Madam President.

Good morning, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I am pleased to see so many of you here for this IAEA International Conference on Advances in Nuclear Forensics.

Your presence is a reflection of the growing importance which the countries of the world attach to preventing nuclear and other radioactive materials from being misused by terrorists or other criminals.

National authorities have primary responsibility for ensuring that such materials, and the facilities in which they are housed, are properly secured.

But terrorists and criminals operate across international borders, so a coordinated international response is essential. The IAEA plays the central role in helping countries to ensure that nuclear and other radioactive materials do not fall into the wrong hands.

Globally, the protection of these materials and related facilities has undoubtedly improved in the past decade. But much remains to be done.

In the 20 years to 2013, our Member States reported nearly 2 400 confirmed incidents of nuclear and other radioactive material falling out of regulatory control. These are figures compiled by the IAEA Incident and Trafficking Database.

Of greatest concern were 16 incidents which involved the unauthorized possession of highly enriched uranium and plutonium. As recently as 2011, there was evidence of the existence of organized networks of sellers and buyers for this material.

Experience has shown that the harder law enforcement agencies look for nuclear and other radioactive material, the more they find. The question then is to determine the precise nature of material that is seized. Where did it originate? What threat does it pose? Is there more?

This is where nuclear forensics comes in. By helping to determine the origin and history of seized materials, nuclear forensics provides important answers that can guide investigations.

Investigators need the specialist knowledge to manage crime scenes effectively in the case of a nuclear security incident.

They must establish an appropriate chain of custody in dealing with evidence and seized material must be analysed in accordance with well documented procedures. This helps to establish confidence in the conclusions of nuclear forensic investigations and can contribute to successful prosecutions of perpetrators.

Nuclear forensics was first mentioned in resolutions of the IAEA General Conference - the annual high-level meeting of all our Member States - in 2002. It called for the development of guidelines for the conduct of nuclear forensics examinations.

That same year, the IAEA organized a successful International Conference on Advances in Destructive and Non-Destructive Analysis for Environmental Monitoring and Nuclear Forensics.

The use of nuclear forensics has grown considerably since then. Our role has also expanded.

The IAEA Nuclear Security Plan 2014-2017, which we are now implementing, reflects the growing importance of nuclear forensics for the effectiveness and sustainability of national nuclear security frameworks.

The Agency is implementing research projects on issues such as improving technical measures to detect illicit trafficking in nuclear and other radioactive materials, developing relevant instruments and methods, and applying nuclear forensics to prevent, and respond to, nuclear security events.

We also prepare nuclear forensics guidance documents and provide training.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

By determining the origin of seized nuclear and other radioactive materials, nuclear forensics can help to identify gaps in the implementation of international legal instruments and indicate what may need to be done to improve the control of these materials at facilities.

One vital element of the international legal framework has still not come into force because not enough countries have adhered to it - the 2005 Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material.

This is a major piece of unfinished business in international efforts to ensure that nuclear material is properly secured.

Under the Amendment, nuclear forensics can play a role in enabling the prosecution or extradition of alleged offenders and the provision of assistance by State Parties in connection with criminal proceedings.

Adherence by another 22 States Parties to the Amendment is needed for this vitally important nuclear security instrument to enter into force. I encourage all countries to adhere to the Amendment as soon as possible.

Nuclear forensics can also play a role in international cooperation in the event of theft or any other unlawful taking of nuclear material. This can make it easier to recover and secure such material.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

For nuclear forensics to be effective, countries need fully trained experts capable of making accurate measurements that will stand up in court.

Everyone involved in a nuclear security investigation must clearly understand the importance of correct procedures for forensics evidence and its legal admissibility.

We must keep up with technological developments and ensure that the best science is used.

You will consider these issues, and many others, at your conference this week. The IAEA is committed to playing its part in ensuring that the extremely important science of nuclear forensics continues to progress.

I wish you every success in your deliberations.

Thank you.


Last update: 25 Nov 2019

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