We are doing science for policy
The Joint Research Centre (JRC) is the European Commission's science and knowledge service which employs scientists to carry out research in order to provide independent scientific advice and support to EU policy.
There is strong public support for nuclear security activities due to concerns about nuclear arms proliferation and the threat of nuclear terrorism, which is associated with illicit trafficking of nuclear material. The EU invests significant resources in nuclear security for prevention, detection and response actions to illicit trafficking of nuclear material. The JRC has been a pioneer in the field of nuclear forensics since the early 1990s, and has today a leading position worldwide in this highly specialised area.
The detection and the identification of illegally transported or stored nuclear material constitute a major line of defense against illicit trafficking. JRC is running, in parallel with the US, a project Illicit Trafficking Radiation Assessment Programme (ITRAP+10) for testing, validation and intercomparison of border security detection equipment. JRC also developed, through its very active participation in the Border Monitoring Working Group (BMWG), the first joint syllabi of the EU and the US, and IAEA for training border guards and trainers. About 25 weeks of hands-on radionuclide detection courses have been provided.
Nuclear forensic science provides clues on the origin of the seized material. Establishing appropriate response plans for handling cases of detection remains an important issue. The JRC has been providing support to authorities in EU member states through the analysis of intercepted nuclear materials, equipment development, testing and validation. Nuclear forensics is a key component of this support as it provides information for the prosecution of nuclear smugglers and enables the identification of the origin of the intercepted material, thus providing essential information for improving preventive measures. Nuclear forensics is a highly sophisticated methodology, available only in few specialised laboratories. Recognised as a centre of excellence by national and international bodies, the JRC has developed various techniques that allow identification of the origin of intercepted material, the route it could have taken and the probable intended use. With a team on standby at all times to respond immediately to a seizure, a first analysis can be achieved within 24 hours of a sample arriving at JRC.
The collaboration with national authorities (such as law enforcement, regulatory and radiation protection bodies) and international organisations (such as the IAEA, Europol) is fundamental for developing a comprehensive response plan for incidents of illicit trafficking. Investigations of characteristic parameters, i.e. information inherent to the material, are done for forensic purposes and in support of nuclear safeguards. The JRC develops specific measurement methods and data interpretation techniques encompassing appropriate training activities. In this context, the JRC has also been tasked by the Commission’s DG Home Affairs to create a European nuclear security training centre (EUSECTRA) in order to meet this priority and complement national training efforts.