EU Atomic Detectives help track down nuclear traffickers

October 5, 2004

Brussels, 04 Oct 2004

After a two-day workshop in Vilnius, Lithuania, which brought together experts from International Organisations, New Member States, Accession Countries, Ukraine and the Western Balkan States, the European Commission announced that new methodologies developed by its Joint Research Centre (JRC) were helping in the fight against illicit nuclear trafficking. This follows evidence of a significant rise in the smuggling of nuclear and other radioactive materials worldwide, as disclosed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Since 1993, the IAEA has reported 300 confirmed cases of nuclear trafficking, with 215 in the past 5 years alone. The materials concerned had been stolen or diverted from factories, hospitals or research laboratories. The European Commission is able to provide research facilities for rapid one-day analysis and detailed nuclear forensic investigation, alongside scientists on-site to help national authorities and international organisations in their efforts to combat nuclear trafficking. EU 'atomic detectives' identify where intercepted nuclear material comes from and its most likely intended use. An extensive database on commercial nuclear and seized illicit materials is also helping the Commission's response team to interpret valuable data.

Europe's atomic investigators

The Commission is helping to prevent and counteract terrorist threats, also those involving nuclear materials. It has also developed safeguard technologies, ranging from measurement methodologies to surveillance techniques and data evaluation, to work with the IAEA to prevent nuclear proliferation.

Tackling nuclear smuggling

Areas in the world where nuclear material is not properly secured could lead to the theft or diversion of nuclear material, nuclear smuggling and illicit trafficking. The Commission has developed nuclear forensic tools to detect, trace, fingerprint and track nuclear materials across Europe and beyond with the added value of being able to assess radiological hazards and elucidate possible uses. Detecting nuclear fingerprints

The JRC Institute for Transuranium Elements (ITU) in Karlsruhe, Germany, develops and applies analytical methods to nuclear materials originating from seizures or accidental releases. Its role is to identify the nature of the material, assess immediate associated hazards, identify the original source and possible routes taken before the material was seized.

Solving nuclear crimes

The Commission co-operates with national and international law enforcement, nuclear and customs agencies, including Europol, Germany's central police agency (BKA) and the German Federal Ministry for Environment (BMU). It helps fine-tune standard forensic procedures to the specialised needs of nuclear scientists. It has.successfully fingerprinted radioactive objects, and analysed uranium confiscated by the German police in late 2003. The most prominent case involved the seizure of plutonium at Munich airport and in Tengen, Germany in 1994.

Sharing international experience

On 29 and 30 September 2004, a workshop entitled "Experiences in Combating Illicit Trafficking of Nuclear and Radioactive Materials" was held in Vilnius, Lithuania. Experts from law enforcement services and measurement laboratories presented their findings and discussed ways to intensify collaboration in response plans, training and delivery of portable measurement equipment. The workshop was attended by participants from new EU Member States, Western Balkans, the IAEA, the International Technical Working Group on Combating Illicit Trafficking (ITWG) and Europol.

Further information

IAEA website

For further requests related to this press release, please contact:
Berta Duane, Press Officer, Joint Research Centre
Tel: +39 0332 789743; E-mail:

Joint Research Centre
Item source: /releases/20041001_pr_atomic_detectives. pdf

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