The Nuclear Forensics International Technical Working Group (ITWG) held its 25th annual meeting June 15-18, 2021. The event, which was conducted in a virtual setting for the first time, was attended by more than one hundred experts from 30 countries and highlighted the group’s notable contributions to international nuclear security over the past twenty-five years.
Established in 1995 when nuclear materials were being smuggled out of the former Soviet Union and into Europe, experts from the Group of Seven created the ITWG 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 (IAEA) receives more than 100 confirmed reports of nuclear and other radioactive materials outside regulatory control to include 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 Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT), and its guidance and results have been featured at the IAEA International Conferences on Nuclear Security in 2016 and 2020 as well as the preceding Nuclear Security Summits.
The 2021 meeting featured briefings by the IAEA and the GICNT, technical presentations by experts from across the globe, and a panel discussion reviewing the Group’s role and accomplishments. Among the prominent contributions identified by the panel was the ITWG’s “Model Action Plan.” This best practice described for the first time in an international document how investigators and scientific experts cooperate to safely process a crime scene involving nuclear or other radioactive material. This plan, like many other ITWG products, emerged from the conduct of an ITWG exercise where experts from around the world shared experiences and lessons learned. Outcomes from these exercises inform international guidelines, are regularly published in leading scientific journals, and raise the level of nuclear forensics practice across the international community. In September 2021, the ITWG will initiate its seventh collaborative materials exercise comprising elements of radiological crime scene management and nuclear forensic laboratory analyses.
In recognition of the 25th anniversary of the ITWG, the 2022 ITWG meeting will be hosted by the US DOE Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where the organization was established in 1995.
The ITWG is co-chaired by experts from the European Commission and the United States. The current co-chairs are Klaus Mayer from the European Commission’s Joint Research Center in Karlsruhe, Germany, and Michael Curry from the U.S. State Department