An important symposium on the detection of nuclear material was held at Lancaster House from 1-2 November. At the symposium I introduced Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt MP who spoke on the vital need to combat the illicit trafficking of nuclear material.
The meeting was organised through the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism and was organised by the FCO in collaboration with the AWE, the United States Defence Threat Reduction Agency and the Ministry of Defence.
The challenging problems associated with detecting special nuclear materials were discussed with emphasis on highly enriched uranium. The low energy emissions from nuclear isotopes are easily absorbed by surrounding material and this presents special challenges for detection.
Both passive methods (i.e. detecting emissions such as gamma rays and neutrons) and active techniques (e.g. probing material with radiation) were discussed. In addition new techniques, such as observing the path of muons from cosmic rays through materials, were described.
The practical challenge of setting up detection devices at borders was considered as was the impressive detection programme applied in the London Olympics.
Representatives from 15 countries including the USA, Russia, Israel and Pakistan freely contributed to the discussions.
A very encouraging aspect of symposia such as these is the open sharing of information that would have been secret just a few years ago. This is allowing real progress to be made in making the world safer through the improved ability to detect dangerous nuclear material.