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Workshop Focuses on Combating Illicit Nuclear Trafficking in the Asia-Pacific

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) recently facilitated a regional nuclear forensics workshop in Bangkok, Thailand. The purpose of the Workshop on Nonproliferation Nuclear Forensics was to advance Asian-Pacific capacity to deter illicit trafficking of nuclear and other radioactive material.

Fifty-five participants from 17 countries attended, marking the second time the workshop has coincided with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum (ARF). The workshop was hosted by the ARF in collaboration with NNSA, the European Commission’s Joint Research-Centre Institute for Transuranium Elements, and the Kingdom of Thailand’s Ministrty of Foreign Affairs and Office of Atoms for Peace.

“With more than forty percent of the world’s seaborne trade alone flowing through Asia and the Pacific, countries in the region risk becoming conduits for the illicit trafficking of nuclear and other radioactive materials,” said NNSA Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Anne Harrington. “Nuclear security and trafficking challenges recognize no national borders and cannot be resolved strictly through national assets, thus a regional approach to developing nuclear forensics capabilities will be an essential tool for authorities.”

 During the workshop, participants discussed ways to develop a strong nuclear forensics capability through improved regional collaboration among governments in the Asia-Pacific. Participants worked with representatives from the ASEAN Secretariat, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the European Union’s External Action Service to perform a needs analysis in the area of illicit trafficking incident response, and to define strategies for developing and implementing best practices and practical approaches that would strengthen the international nuclear forensics framework.

“Southeast Asia will be an increasingly important transportation and travel hub that will rely on greater regional cooperation to prevent illicit smuggling activities. Thailand has been engaged with ASEAN on a number of activities to promote safe and secure peaceful uses of nuclear sciences and technology in the region,” said Deputy Director-General Busadee Santipitaks, Department of ASEAN Affairs in Thailand.

Nuclear forensics is a significant tool for deterring illicit trafficking of nuclear and other radioactive material. The development of nuclear forensics capability has been recognized by the 2010 and 2012 Nuclear Security Summit Communiqués, the IAEA and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism. Nuclear forensics helps experts gain insight into nuclear material’s place of origin and its process history through the analysis of the materials at different stages in the nuclear fuel cycle. Geologic conditions and industrial processes often leave unique and identifiable signatures in nuclear materials, which are uncovered during the analysis.  

The ARF was established in 1994 and serves as the primary forum for regional cooperation on political and security issues, including nonproliferation and disarmament, through multilateral discussions and capacity building programs. The ARF  is comprised of 27 members: 10 ASEAN Member States (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam), 10 ASEAN dialogue partners (Australia, Canada, China, the European Union, India, Japan, New Zealand, ROK, the Russia Federation, and the U.S.), Papua New Guinea, Mongolia, DPRK, Pakistan, Timor-Leste, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

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Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; works to reduce global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the U.S. and abroad.