Nuclear forensicsInternational Nuclear Forensics Group Examines Nuclear Security Challenges

Published 13 August 2021

The Nuclear Forensics International Technical Working Group (ITWG) was established in 1995 when nuclear materials were being smuggled out of the former Soviet Union and into Europe. Last month the ITWG held its annual meeting virtually.

Several Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) scientists played key roles in the 25th annual meeting of the Nuclear Forensics International Technical Working Group (ITWG), which met last month.

The event, which was conducted in a virtual setting for the first time, was attended by more than 100 experts from 30 countries and highlighted the group’s notable contributions to international nuclear security.

Established in 1995 when nuclear materials were being smuggled out of the former Soviet Union and into Europe, experts from the Group of Seven created the ITWG to develop and employ technical approaches to counter nuclear smuggling, primarily by strengthening cooperation between law enforcement investigators and scientific experts.

The ITWG was formed largely through the efforts of concerned scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy national labs and the Institute for Transuranium Elements (now Joint Research Center-Karlsruhe) representing the European Commission, with the encouragement of governmental officials. The first meeting of the organization was in 1995 at LLNL and throughout its history, the organization has featured numerous LLNL scientists.

This time was no different as LLNL scientists played key roles in this first-ever virtual meeting, ranging from planning the agenda to serving on panels to helping to develop official documents for the organization. In addition, several members of the ITWG executive committee are current or former LLNL scientists.

LLNL’s David Smith is the outreach task group co-chair of the ITWG and was ITWG co-chairman from 2007 to 2009. Following a 10-year term at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as a nuclear security coordinator (forensics), Smith joined the Department of War Studies of Kings College London as a visiting senior research fellow within their Centre for Science and Security Studies. Smith also is a visiting scientist with Global Security at the Lab.

Smith coordinated an engaging retrospective panel on 25 years of the ITWG with founding members including Sid Niemeyer (retired from LLNL) as well as Ben Garrett and Tom Jourdan (both retired from the FBI) and Paul Thompson (of Great Britain’s Atomic Weapons Establishment, or AWE). Niemeyer is a past co-chair of the ITWG and was instrumental in the founding of the organization.

Naomi Marks, a member of LLNL’s Chemical and Isotopic Signatures Group, worked to develop the meeting agenda with the U.S. State Department and the Joint Research Center–Karlsruhe (European Commission) as well as the ITWG executive committee. 

In support of the meeting, Marks coordinated the technical presentations and served as moderator for one of the two technical sessions. In addition to this