Officials Question Readiness to Probe Nuclear Strikes

Nuclear technicians handle laboratory equipment in 2013. Dozens of countries last week said it is "essential" for governments to strengthen their joint capacity to trace nuclear materials back to their origins.
National Journal
Diane Barnes
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Diane Barnes
July 16, 2014, 8:12 a.m.

Dozens of of­fi­cials and ex­perts want to tight­en glob­al co­oper­a­tion on ana­lyz­ing atom­ic ma­ter­i­als, partly to help identi­fy per­pet­rat­ors of pos­sible nuc­le­ar strikes.

Par­ti­cipants in a land­mark in­ter­na­tion­al con­fer­ence said the world’s abil­ity to trace in­crim­in­at­ing nuc­le­ar ma­ter­i­als to their ori­gins could im­prove sub­stan­tially if gov­ern­ments work to­geth­er on the mat­ter, the U.N. nuc­le­ar watch­dog said on Tues­day.

They ar­gued such col­lab­or­a­tion would prove “es­sen­tial” for nuc­le­ar forensics cap­ab­il­it­ies to keep up with the grow­ing reach and soph­ist­ic­a­tion of crim­in­al and ter­ror net­works, the In­ter­na­tion­al Atom­ic En­ergy Agency ad­ded in a state­ment.

Still, The Vi­enna-based or­gan­iz­a­tion offered few spe­cif­ics on how meet­ing par­ti­cipants want to boost col­lab­or­a­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to one is­sue ex­pert, coun­tries could be­ne­fit from im­proved co­oper­a­tion on cre­at­ing ref­er­ence lib­rar­ies of nuc­le­ar ma­ter­i­als.

Such data­bases would in­clude “in­form­a­tion … and in some cases samples,” Elena Sokova, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Vi­enna Cen­ter for Dis­arm­a­ment and Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion, told Glob­al Se­cur­ity News­wire.

She ad­ded, though, that she had not heard of any spe­cif­ic “pro­pos­als for co­oper­a­tion” in the works. In the past, gov­ern­ments have proven re­luct­ant to of­fer up samples of sens­it­ive atom­ic sub­stances for in­ter­na­tion­al data­bases.

Sokova also sug­ges­ted gov­ern­ments could co­oper­ate on nuc­le­ar-forensics ef­forts by help­ing oth­ers to carry out in­vest­ig­a­tions.

“Such co­oper­a­tion could help coun­tries with lim­ited cap­ab­il­it­ies to call on their neigh­bors or oth­ers with bet­ter de­veloped forensics cap­ab­il­it­ies and ex­pert­ise to help with in­vest­ig­a­tions of smug­gling cases, ter­ror­ist acts, and in case of re­sponse to ra­di­olo­gic­al events,” the ex­pert wrote in an e-mailed re­sponse to ques­tions.

Some coun­tries may re­ceive help to more ef­fect­ively con­duct their own nuc­le­ar-forensics probes, pos­sibly through ex­pert train­ing or sup­plies of tech­nic­al equip­ment, Sokova ad­ded.

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