Nuclear forensics

Nuclear forensics is the examination of nuclear and other radioactive materials using analytical techniques to determine the origin and history of this material in the context of law enforcement investigations or the assessment of nuclear security vulnerabilities.

The results of the examination support the response to the unauthorized use of these materials and help States make informed decisions to improve their nuclear security practices. The IAEA assists States by providing technical assistance on the conduct of a nuclear forensics examination, training, coordinated research programmes as well as nuclear forensic advisories and consultations.

Using isotopic, chemical and physical characteristics of nuclear and other material, together with related forensic evidence to include DNA, hair, fingerprints, tool marks and explosive residues, nuclear forensics can potentially link samples of interest to people, places and events.

The IAEA supports States in developing technical capabilities by providing:

  • Technical assistance, including, upon request, to prepare for the conduct of a nuclear forensics examination in the context of the investigation of a nuclear security event. Important considerations involve procedures to collect and preserve evidence and properly sequence non-destructive ahead of destructive analysis in the laboratory;
  • Training to raise awareness of nuclear forensics to prevent and respond to a nuclear security event, familiarize responders with collecting evidence supporting a nuclear forensics examination to include establishing a chain of custody, as well as orienting practitioners to current nuclear forensic methodologies;
  • Opportunities to participate in an IAEA coordinated research project with leading nuclear forensic investigators to promote the science of nuclear forensics analysis and interpretation and improve the confidence of all participants; and
  • Scientific advisories and consultations to help States develop and sustain a national nuclear forensics capability that best utilizes existing facilities and recognized subject matter experts in nuclear science, law enforcement and nuclear security.

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