Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism: Introduction and Nuclear Forensics Focus

Good morning. Thank you Mr. Khammar Mrabit [kam-MAR mr-AH-bit], for your kind introduction. And thank you, Ambassador Berdennikov, for your remarks on the value-added of our work together in the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism. 

I would also like to thank the IAEA for organizing and hosting the largest international nuclear forensics conference to date here this week. Thank you to the IAEA as well for their welcoming of the participation of the Nuclear Forensics International Technical Working Group, INTERPOL, and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism as cooperating entities in this important event. Most importantly I would like to recognize all of the conference participants – representing more than 90 member states as well as several international organizations – who have traveled from around the world to contribute to our discussion of the value of nuclear forensics. 

As President Obama stated in 2012, “There is still much too much material — nuclear, chemical, biological — being stored without enough protection. There are still terrorists and criminal gangs doing everything they can to get their hands on it. And make no mistake, if they get it, they will use it; potentially killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people, perhaps triggering a global crisis.” As we have seen from past seizures of weapons-grade nuclear material, such materials remain in illegal circulation on the black market, where they are vulnerable to smugglers and potential terrorists. The threat from nuclear and radiological terrorism is real. No country is exempt. 

This conference provides an excellent opportunity to highlight the value of nuclear forensics as a tool:

  • to help counter the smuggling of nuclear materials that could be used in an attack,

  • to trace the source of seized materials to their place of origin,

  • to helpentify and close down smuggling networks; and

  • to prosecute those responsible.

Moreover, nuclear forensics provides a means for governments to act collaboratively to improve global nuclear security and prevent nuclear terrorism. I believe the work we do together this week will represent a significant step toward achieving this objective. Furthermore, I believe this is one of the most important challenges we all face today. 

I would like to reinforce Ambassador Berdennikov’s remarks on the important work of the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism by providing some additional information regarding the activities of the GICNT in the area of nuclear forensics. Our collective efforts through initiatives such as the GICNT have made great strides in advancing international nuclear forensics capabilities and cooperation. 

The GICNT Nuclear Forensics Working Group concentrates on creating policy-focused products to:

  • raise awareness of nuclear forensics,

  • assist partners in developing core capabilities,

  • foster national and international information sharing (while protecting restricted information),

  • conduct joint tabletop exercises,

  • and share best practices.

Over the past four years, the group has developed two guidelines documents for policy makers and conducted four international table-top exercises. 

The first seminar and table-top exercise, co-hosted by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, Institute for Transuranium Elements in 2011, engaged participants from 15 partner nations in discussing the capabilities and limitations of nuclear forensics and what it can and cannot provide to policy makers. 

This event contributed to the development of Nuclear Forensics Fundamentals for Policymakers and Decision Makers, a document that raises awareness of the value of nuclear forensics and aims to assist GICNT partners in determining the level of nuclear forensics capabilities they should develop. This policy primer was presented at the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit and formally approved at the 2013 GICNT Plenary. 

In 2012, the second table-top exercise, Iron Koala, engaged 23 partner nations in Sydney, Australia to explore policy perspectives and challenges of sharing information domestically and internationally to advance forensic investigations of nuclear or radioactive materials seizures. Such information sharing may be crucial to the success of the investigation, especially in linking previous smuggling events and shutting down smuggling networks. 

In January of this year, the United Kingdom hosted Exercise Blue Beagle, which demonstrated the UK’s plans, processes, and best practices for managing a crime scene contaminated with radioactive material as well as the critical steps needed to successfully introduce the evidence into legal proceedings. Partner nations discussed key topics related to collection of evidence, forensic analysis, chain of custody, and preparation for prosecution. 

The following month, in February 2014, the Nuclear Forensics and Response and Mitigation Working Groups conducted another multi-disciplinary table-top exercise, Tiger Reef, in Kuala Lumpur. Hosted by the government of Malaysia, Tiger Reef explored synergies and challenges for managing a radioactive crime scene from both a nuclear forensics investigative perspective and the perspective of health and safety response officials. It also showcased the need for both communities to work together and understand these synergies and challenges to effectively manage operations in responding to a nuclear security event. 

The GICNT working group is currently developing a second document, Exchanging Nuclear Forensics Information: Benefits, Challenges, and Resources, and has plans underway for its next two table-top exercises. 

First, an October event in Budapest will engage policy makers from GICNT partner nations on the value of working within their countries to develop and advance certain fundamental nuclear forensics capabilities. These capabilities may include developing procedures for collecting and protecting evidence and a national nuclear forensics library or associated databases prior to a nuclear security incident. 

Second, next spring the Nuclear Forensics Working Group will hold a mock trial event at The Hague that will further explore the role of nuclear forensic findings in the courtroom. 

A key element of GICNT events is that they seek to bring together nuclear forensic experts with a range of policy, law enforcement, technical and related backgrounds to demonstrate the critical need for these experts to collaborate: policy makers informing the technical community of their needs and technical experts sharing with policy makers the capabilities of nuclear forensics. 

I believe that the conference this week will make a significant contribution to advancing partnerships between the different communities of experts that support and use nuclear forensics in their daily work. I commend the IAEA for recognizing the importance of gathering us all here in Vienna. 

The presentations and discussions this week represent a collective next step toward strengthening nuclear forensics capabilities, capacity building, and international cooperation toward a more effective global nuclear security community. Our ongoing work through the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism – in partnership with the IAEA, ITWG, and INTERPOL – and the work you do here will help us sustain a robust and enduring international nuclear security architecture well into the future. Thank you.