On 15-17 May, experts from 22 countries and several international organisations gathered at JRC Karlsruhe for the 2018 Counter Nuclear Smuggling (CNS) Workshop.
The workshop is an integral part of EU and US efforts to keep nuclear materials off the black market and bring nuclear smugglers to justice by strengthening the ability of the international community to counter nuclear smuggling.
The smuggling of nuclear and other radioactive material raises the spectre of nuclear terrorism.
This threat knows no borders, so countries must work together to combat it. Strengthening the capabilities and knowledge of authorities dealing with this threat is an important part of this effort.
To this end, the European Commission and the United States co-hosted the 2018 Counter Nuclear Smuggling (CNS) Workshop at the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) in Karlsruhe, Germany.
The third event of its kind, the workshop brought together some 70 experts from 22 countries and several international and national organisations1.
Building on participant feedback from CNS workshops in 2014 and 2016, the 2018 workshop highlighted the following issues: national plans for coordinating government agencies in responding to nuclear smuggling incidents, nuclear forensics and other technical tools used to investigate and prosecute nuclear smuggling, and opportunities for bilateral and multilateral CNS coordination.
Workshop instructors included experts from the JRC, the U.S. Department of State, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the U.S. Department of Energy, Interpol, and the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The participants discussed state of the art technologies and technical challenges associated with the detection, response and investigation of nuclear security incidents, reviewed international guidance on these CNS techniques and discussed how countries might incorporate them into their national efforts.
The workshop also gave participants a unique opportunity to put CNS strategies into practice. Taking full advantage of the facilities at JRC Karlsruhe, the workshop included practical exercises and demonstrations involving nuclear material and radioactive sources.
As part of an interactive exercise, participants reviewed a fictional scenario to identify potential challenges and solutions in investigating nuclear smuggling.
They concluded that close coordination between law enforcement investigators, technical experts, and prosecutors; technical tools such as nuclear forensics; and national and bilateral information-sharing mechanisms are essential in effective CNS investigations.
The JRC's nuclear detectives
Nuclear forensic science provides information on the origin of the seized material. The JRC has been a pioneer in this field since the early 1990s, and today holds a leading position worldwide in this highly specialised area.
Nuclear Forensics is a key component of the JRC support to EU Member States in CNS and responding to nuclear security events.
To this end, Nuclear Forensics uses highly sophisticated methodologies, available in only a few specialised laboratories. Recognised as a centre of excellence by national and international bodies, the JRC has developed various techniques to determine parameters which are characteristic of seized nuclear material.
The unique subject matter expertise of the JRC's nuclear researchers enables them to interpret these data and infer the processing history, the origin and the likely intended use of the material.
EU Member States have called on the JRC for support in investigating55 nuclear security incidents involving nuclear or other radioactive material.
Recent examples include scrap metal contaminated with uranium and uranium intercepted from illicit trafficking in an Eastern European country.
Capacity building and knowledge management in the field of nuclear security have become key activities of the JRC.
Improving technical skills and ensuring cross-disciplinary cooperation are essential for effectively countering illicit nuclear trafficking.
The European Nuclear Security Training Centre (EUSECTRA) was established to address concerns of theft of radioactive materials that could be associated with malicious, criminal or terrorist acts.
Located at the JRC sites in Karlsruhe and Ispra, the EUSECTRA training centre aims at improving Member States' capabilities to detect and respond to illicit incidents involving nuclear or other radioactive materials.
The centre provides hands-on training for front line officers and other experts in detection, categorisation and characterisation of nuclear material.
The training programme benefits from the unrivalled combination of scientific expertise, specific technical infrastructure and the availability of a wide range of nuclear materials at the JRC.
It offers a unique opportunity for participants to explore scenarios using real nuclear materials. EUSECTRA is one of the few places in the world where a wide range of samples of plutonium and uranium of different isotopic compositions can be used for training.
Research for increased nuclear security
Nuclear safeguards were established to guarantee that nuclear materials are not diverted to purposes other than those for which they were originally declared.
JRC scientists support the European Commission in the implementation of nuclear safeguards through the development and testing of technologies that facilitate the work of European Commission's nuclear inspectors.
The JRC's Sensor Tracking and Mapping system (STeAM) is an example of such technologies.
STeAM is a portable device that uses a 3D laser scanner to acquire 10 image frames per second as the user explores their environment.
This allows nuclear safeguards inspectors to map a nuclear facility and associate the measurements and observations made during an inspection with the corresponding location inside the facility.
During a subsequent inspection, the device highlights structural changes made in the facility since the last visit. This helps inspectors to spot areas where changes might have been made that were not declared.
In the field of nuclear safeguards, there is also a strong demand for a robust seal system for under-water storage of spent nuclear fuel materials.
Seals are also used for nuclear transportation casks, long term dry storage repository and other movable structures of strategic value, such as containers, weapons or explosives.
The JRC has developed ultrasonic seals which give non-erasable, unambiguous evidence of opening or tampering of the container.
The seals are radiation resistant and extremely reliable, even in very harsh environmental conditions. The JRC’s ultrasonic sealing system is used by international organisations, such as the IAEA, for the control of nuclear materials.
This work is also contributing to the EU Action Plan to enhance the preparedness against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear security risks.
1 European Commission, IAEA, Interpol, ENEA, FBI, US Department of State, US Department of Justice, US, Department of Energy, Greek Atomic Energy Commission, German Federal Office for Radiation Protection, German Federal Ministry of Finance (back)
- 18 Mai 2018