Joint Research Centre - European Commission

The European Commission's in-house science service
European Commission

Investigators checking confiscated radioactive material (exercise)

Investigators checking confiscated radioactive material (exercise)

Nuclear verification: new facility for trace analysis


To further strengthen its activities in the detection of single uranium particles, the JRC and Euratom Safeguards have decided to jointly establish a high-sensitivity particle analysis laboratory. The new laboratory's core facility will be a large geometry secondary ion mass spectrometer (LG-SIMS) for trace analysis of aerosol particles. It will allow the detection speed and sensitivity of nuclear material to be increased by at least a factor of ten. The minor isotopes of uranium will become accessible, which is important for identifying the source of the material.

The European Commission's JRC is among the few laboratories in the world that can provide the highly specialised analytical methods and techniques needed for nuclear safeguards and forensics purposes. In Karlsruhe, Germany, the JRC's Institute for Transuranium Elements (JRC-ITU) supports Euratom Safeguards. Its mission is to ensure that within the EU, nuclear material is not diverted from its intended use and that safeguarding obligations agreed with third parties are complied with.

Nuclear safeguards also include environmental sampling to verify the absence of undeclared nuclear activities. The JRC provides the safeguards authorities with experimental evidence by analysing micron-sized particles in dust material, thus enabling the detection of a single uranium particle among millions of ordinary dust particles.

Preventing the spread of nuclear weapon technology and illicit trafficking of nuclear materials that can be used for the production of nuclear weapons, or so-called dirty bombs, is a key issue today. Illicit trafficking of nuclear material demands a qualified and comprehensive response. The JRC has been playing an active role in enhancing the European Union (EU) member states' capabilities to combat illicit trafficking for many years. An extensive training programme was developed covering all aspects of the entire response process, from the development of a national response plan to nuclear forensic analysis with advanced analytical techniques.

The JRC's capabilities in this field were the basis for the recent agreement concluded with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to work together on science and technology for safety, security and sustainability. In particular, nuclear forensics and safeguards technology for combating illicit trafficking of nuclear material is a primary area of common interest.