The independent resource on global security

Nuclear forensics

Inside the flight tube of a mass spectrometer, an instrument used in nucler forensics
Inside the flight tube of a mass spectrometer, an instrument used in nucler forensics. Photo: Jens Goepfert

Many important international treaties, including the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) provide for special mechanisms allowing for verification that the treaty’s members adhere to their commitments. Such verification mechanisms require the application of appropriate technologies. As technology advances, it provides better means for verification arrangements to pursue their goals. At the same time, the goals or working conditions of verification mechanisms may change with time, creating a demand for new technologies and even new scientific disciplines. 

Nuclear forensic analysis, or nuclear forensics, is an example of such a new discipline. Nuclear forensics is the analysis of a sample of nuclear or radioactive material and any associated information to provide evidence for determining the history of the sample material.

Certain nuclear forensic techniques have been used for many years in isolated applications, including an IAEA safeguards system for non-nuclear weapon states, prevention or prosecution of the illicit trafficking of nuclear materials, and the verification of the bilateral treaties between the Soviet Union and the United States concerning the limitation of nuclear weapons testing.

Research staff

Vitaly Fedchenko is a Senior Researcher with the SIPRI European Security Programme.