Dirty bombs traceable by DNA analysis, say ministers
Improvised nuclear or radiological devices can be traced by new forensic procedures developed by the Ministry of Defence
"Dirty bombs" – improvised nuclear or radiological devices – could be traced back to their source through new forensic and DNA analysis developed by the Ministry of Defence, ministers have said. A nuclear forensics capability applying conventional forensics techniques to radiologically contaminated evidence will be set up at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston next month, they disclosed.
Nuclear and radiological materials have unique fingerprints – chemical and physical characteristics, officials said. "Potentially, they could tell what part of the world they come from," said one official.
"As well as having practical application after an event, this capability is intended to have a deterrent effect: both to terrorists, and crucially to states by encouraging them to keep effective control over their fissile material so that they are not implicated in an attack," said the MoD.
Nick Harvey, the armed forces minister, said: "The rise of international terrorism has made the struggle to keep nuclear material out of the wrong hands more acute … Having the forensic ability to trace the source of nuclear and radiological materials that could be used in such devices by utilising their unique chemical and physical "fingerprints" [could] encourage states to keep effective control over their nuclear material."
The government has agreed to share previously classified technology to help detect trafficking in nuclear materials, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, told the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea.
"Nuclear terrorism is a very real and global threat," Clegg told the 53-nation meeting where he also dismissed as "baseless insinuations" claims that Britain had sent a nuclear missile submarine to the Falklands.
He said the UK had ratified protocols under the 1969 Treaty of Tlatelolco, prohibiting nuclear weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean.
"Dangerous material must never be allowed to fall into the hands of terrorists – a successful attack would have catastrophic human and environmental consequences", Clegg told the Seoul conference.
He emphasised the importance of information security in preventing the spread of nuclear materials to terrorists. "We need to do more to focus on protecting the information that terrorists need to obtain and then use those materials – maps of nuclear sites, designs for improvised bombs, how to get past border security, beating emergency response teams and so on."