NuFor 2023 – Our 5th anniversary Nuclear Forensics conference

The NuFor 2023 Organising Committee wishes to thank all our participants for attending, presenting and making this year’s conference a success. 

For information on NuFor 2024, which will be held in Manchester, visit the website at

Closing remarks from David Smith, King's College London.

As I said a year ago, rare in this chaotic world is the opportunity to have the literally have last word.  Again, I’ll seize the chance!

Nuclear forensics is more indispensable than ever as it confronts many nuclear security challenges of 2023. This discipline was born in another time, during the immediate aftermath of the Cold War, when vulnerable materials were diverted from large fissionable inventories maintained for nuclear deterrence. At that time, the focus was addressing the vulnerabilities, and improving the security, of these materials used, produced and stored by in that bilateral conflict.  As part of global commitments to improve nuclear security practice, results from nuclear forensic examinations identified deficiencies in physical protection of these materials, nuclear trafficking modalities, and, with this information, informed and improved detection and response to cases involving unauthorized material access.

In the more than three decades between 1991 and 2023, the nuclear security threat has become much more complex. 

In addition to earlier individuals and groups that would smuggle nuclear materials as a commodity and for profit, terrorism and armed conflict have now eclipsed these often singular cases. More than twenty years on, the events of 11 September 2001 always remind us of the unimaginable consequences should nuclear materials be weaponized as in violation of societal norms. There is an abundance of evidence of the intention of terrorist to acquire nuclear and other radioactive materials for malicious purposes. For the past years the war in Eastern Europe persists. Nuclear dangers increase with the degradation of regulatory control. No where is this more the case in western Russia and eastern Ukraine where Europe’s largest nuclear power plants and an array of radioactive sources used in manufacturing, food and grain harvest, shale gas production and related  industries.  While the active fighting continues, the security and safety of these source terms throughout the region remains uncertain. There will certainly be a role for nuclear forensics in the aftermath.

The nuclear source term is becoming more distributed. Small modular reactors offer great promise due to their uniform design and build as well as on-site BTU deployment and are now beginning to enter service. Future Gen 4 reactors offer higher temperature and energy production efficiencies. New fuel cycles are being contemplated. Nuclear forensics will soon need be ready to identify those fuels used in new designs and ensure the means to identify relevant signatures with high confidence are in place. Deployment will necessitate that nuclear forensics will be a part of national response plans in developing states to include Africa. Having been deployed personally to Sudan within the past year, only highlights for me the operational difficulties and broad spectrum of assistance in nuclear forensics required internationally.

Finally, there is tidal shift in the roster charged with nuclear forensics as a preventive and response. At the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, 50% of the Laboratory staff has been affiliated with the institution for five years or less. In the atomic weapons defence, nuclear security, non proliferation and arms control enterprise, there is no ‘one book to read’ to establish a sustained capacity. Yet I am continually encouraged by the involvement of young investigators, to include women, in furthering nuclear forensics science and policy. The evolution of nuclear forensics will have to make best use of dedication to service, commitment to confidence in conclusions which can powerfully inform law enforcement and security based investigations. Of course, the success and steady growth of the NuFor conferences is a testament to the power of good science to inform nuclear forensics best practice globally. What a successful journey for this forum from NuFor (2019) at the University of Bristol to NuFor (2023) here in London city centre!  Maintaining the ‘nuclear forensics fabric’ through active collaborations and impactful conferences such as this is essential to maintaining the viability of a community of practitioners.

Meeting Summary:

What distinguishes NuFor (2023) and the years prior is the bridge the conference transits between senior leadership in the UK and US Governments, leadership of the national  security laboratories, lead investigators all the way to interested students in the university and the school.  Of note all our keynoters spoke of their own careers; we all have had that teacher, that mentor, that circumstance, or simply that good luck that sparked a career’s trajectory.  That reveal was illuminating particularly for our students and young investigators.

The year’s NuFor featured esteemed speakers from the highest levels.  I have attempted to abstract their keen insights here. This comes at a cost however, time now does not allow those that gave vibrant technical presentations and posters (on Thursday 12 October) to be so recognized, and without diminishing this vital work, I appreciate your understanding.

Tuesday 10 October

Dame Sue Ion spoke to the urgency and promise of the nuclear enterprise globally (438 plants in 30 countries) as well as in the UK where the enterprise is being revitalized.  Micro reactors, off grid technology, nuclear propulsion in shipping, as well as then emergence of nuclear fusion. The 65,000 jobs in the UK will certainly include nuclear forensics examiners.

Director Kimberly Budil of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory spoke to the 17 US national laboratories in the United State as that bridge between academia and industry.  High energy, high density science leading to fusion took staying power at the Laboratory as well as with US Government sponsors.  She noted that excellent staff come for the science and facilities and are “lured into the mission”. She resonated with the science of nuclear forensic signatures both pre-detonation and post-detonation.  

Grant Ford and Mansie Iyer of the US National Nuclear Security Administration spoke to building trust and visibility in nuclear forensics through quantitative science defining international engagement.  The role of nuclear forensics as a preventive needs must be centerpieced whatever the threat spaces holds in 5, 10 and 25 years.

Eva Szeles noted the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Radiological Crime Scene and Nuclear Forensics Unit is publishing impactful documents to include a recent 2023 technical document on establishing a nuclear forensics capability through analytical measurements.

Kevin Swearengen of the FBI and John Simm of SO15 Metropolitan Police spoke to dedicated investments in nuclear forensics examiners and laboratories that allow high confidence examination of conventional and nuclear forensics evidence in the context of high consequence case work

The panel session moderated by Adam Stratz of NNSA highlighted the inaugural class of students from Armenia, Tajikistan, Moldova and Serbia in a collaborative nuclear forensics joint venture with the US laboratories and the opportunities and challenges therein.  The students affected us all, and we are grateful for their contributions this week.

Wednesday 11 October

Rebecca Weston of the Defence Nuclear Organisation in the UK’s Ministry of Defence spoke to the active revitalization of the UK’s nuclear enterprise. The UK professional skill set is vital. Rebecca challenged us to broaden our definition of nuclear forensics to an umbrella encompassing nuclear and radiological material analysis.

Shaun Hargrave of the counterterrorism effort in the Home Office reminded us to ’think the unthinkable’ of nuclear terror threat and plan our responding science accordingly.  Of interest he noted media coverage of the Heathrow case involving nuclear material in January 2023 may have actually helped as a preventive.

Bill Lee, chief scientific advisor to the MOD, noted again that skills and people are essential to the health of the UK’s nuclear threat reduction. New UK reactors to include civilian and submarine propulsion will drive necessary innovation.

Nick Ashwood who leads the nuclear threat reduction efforts at AWE stated that we build expertise not by individual hires in a one institution but rather the growing the technical base across the entirety of the United Kingdom.

Jonathan Virgo of UK Department for Energy and NetZero spoke to the healthy tension between nuclear safety and security are not mutually exclusive in the context of skills, policy and timeliness, our society demands and depends upon a reliable energy supply. Jonathan reminds us we can never reduce that energy risk to zero.

Phil Earp of the Material Research Facility noted that advanced facilities were enablers of advanced nuclear perhaps to include fusion energy by the 2040’s.

Leanne Conway of Women in Nuclear UK gave powerful remarks regarding the goals to include women in the UK’s nuclear workforce to 40% 2030 and to 30% in senior leadership positions.  The Free Non Executive Director efforts was just inaugurated and welcomes by industry.  We are making progress!!

Alanna Downing of AWE spoke to elevating diversity of the nuclear workforce. 21% of the UK’s population is disabled in 2021. Focus on equity over equality. Focus on accessibility verses inclusivity.  It’s good for the nuclear business.

An outstanding panel discussion moderated by AWE and NNL engaged our audience to the ‘over the horizon’ needs and objectives for nuclear forensics.  The panellist imagined to nuclear source term to be more diverse and more distributed than Gen3 technologies.  Fusion and thorium fuel cycles are emerging.  We can’t wait to bring the science to these signatures.

Award for Best NuFor (2023) Poster (100 GBP prize):

Poster #8: Passive Radiological Inspection of Shipping Containers Using a UAV-Mounted Scintillation Detector, Euan Connelly et al.

NuFor (2023) Meeting Conclusions:

We thank everyone involved for their contributions to distinguish this week’s successful outcomes. Roy Awbery, Chris Brook, Karen Kennedy and their team at AWE, the colleagues at the National Nuclear Laboratory, and my friends, Claire Garland and Jenny Griffiths of the Institute of Physics continued as outstanding NuFor (2023) organizers. We gathered this week as senior government representatives, laboratory directors, institute scientists, law enforcement officials, professors, graduate and undergraduate students to renew our partnerships and recognize how much has been accomplished in nuclear forensics as well as the need to use good science and practice to lower the ever-evolving nuclear security hazard through deductive forensic science. After 5 years of NuFor, well done indeed, and we look ahead to the outcomes after ten years of NuFor in 2029.

But life is also full of change: starting in 2024, Roy Awbery will step back and hand the reigns of NuFor organizer to my friend Chris Brook of AWE. Roy assures me he will stay connected to fulfilling the objectives of the forum, but leave the implementation to Chris and his team.  We have a card for Roy, please join me in thanking him for a job well done.

Be safe and be well, the meeting is adjourned!

Co-sponsored by the Royal Society of Chemistry

Environmental Statement   Modern Slavery Act   Accessibility   Disclaimer   Terms & Conditions   Privacy Policy   Code of Conduct   About IOP         

© 2021 IOP All rights reserved.
The Institute is a charity registered in England and Wales (no. 293851) and Scotland (no. SC040092)