Nuclear technology to research crimes
In depth - March 28, 2019

Nuclear technology to research crimes

Nuclear technology can help to research crimes and obtain evidence at a crime scene.

Hidden traces

No matter how carefully criminals may remove their fingerprints or hide evidence, something always stays behind. Thanks to nuclear technology it is possible to analyze isolated particles in order to determine their origin with great precision without altering crucial evidence. This science is known as nuclear forensics.

Nuclear forensics

All evidence reveals a story, and when this evidence involves raioactive or nuclear material found in a crime scene, nuclear forensics is the key to understand the story.

But the origin of the material, as well as its production process and intended use, are only part of its story. It is necessary to establish a tight co-operation between nuclear and traditional forensic experts in order to establish links between the analyzed material and specific people and events.

This video by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) shows how nuclear energy can help in crime investigation:

¿Cómo puede ayudar la ciencia nuclear en la investigación de delitos? (In Spanish)

Analysis of the material

Nuclear forensics determine the characteristics of the nuclear and radioactive material related to the scene of a crime by analyzing its isotopic and chemical characteristics. Combining these analyses with the traditional forensic evidence (DNA, hair, fingerprints, marks from tools, explosive waste, etcetera) nuclear forensics can detect possible links of the samples to people, places and events.

This technique can also be very useful in the analysis of nuclear safety vulnerabilities.

Simulation of a crime at training activity on nuclear forensics for international experts from the AIEA Member States (Source: AIEA)
Simulation of a crime at training activity on nuclear forensics for international experts from the AIEA Member States (Source: AIEA)

Improvements in nuclear safety

The results of this analysis support research on the non-authorized use of these materials and help countries to make informed decisions to improve their nuclear safety practices. IAEA helps its Member States by offering technical assistance in the realization of nuclear forensic tests, training, coordinated research programmes and nuclear forensics consultancy.

Source: IAEA

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