The United States recently participated in the Nuclear Forensics International Technical Working Group (ITWG) annual meeting in Pleasanton, California, where more than 70 experts from nearly 30 countries attended. The U.S. Department of State, the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission jointly hosted the event. In addition to technical presentations and policy discussions, the meeting featured a long-awaited in-person celebration of the ITWG’s 25th Anniversary, delayed for two years during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Established in 1995 when nuclear materials were being smuggled out of the former Soviet Union and into Europe, the ITWG’s mandate is to develop and employ technical approaches to counter nuclear smuggling, primarily by strengthening cooperation between law enforcement investigators and scientific experts.
Each year the International Atomic Energy Agency receives dozens of confirmed reports of nuclear and other radioactive materials outside regulatory control, including incidents involving smuggling and other illicit activities. To thwart terrorists and deter others from the malicious use of these materials, nuclear forensics is a critical investigative and prosecutorial tool, crucial to nuclear security. Due to the evolving nature of the threat, the work of the ITWG continues to prepare states to prevent, deter, and respond to serious incidents involving these materials.
In addition to its annual meetings, the ITWG has held a range of exercises that have helped identify, develop, and socialize best practices in the field of nuclear forensics. More than 300 experts from nearly 60 countries have participated in the ITWG activities. Their collective work helps strengthen the ability of governments to hold perpetrators accountable for the unauthorized use of nuclear and other radioactive material. The ITWG works closely with the IAEA and other international nuclear security organizations, and its guidance and results have been featured at the IAEA International Conferences on Nuclear Security in 2016 and 2020, as well as at the preceding Nuclear Security Summits.
The 2022 meeting featured presentations by nuclear forensics practitioners, policymakers, and law enforcement professionals from around the world, who discussed local and regional nuclear forensics activities, technical nuclear forensics research, and several recent legal cases involving nuclear material outside of regulatory control. The audience also received briefings from representatives of international organizations, who discussed recent and upcoming multilateral engagements and reinforced the strong relationship between the ITWG and other international nuclear security groups. ITWG task groups met for breakout discussions and delivered plenary session updates, highlighting numerous recent accomplishments and outlining expansive plans for future work.
The ITWG is co-chaired by experts from the European Commission and the United States. The current co-chairs are Klaus Mayer (soon to be succeeded by his colleague Maria Wallenius) from the European Commission’s Joint Research Center in Karlsruhe, Germany, and Michael Curry from the U.S. State Department.