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Rdiological and Nuclear

Kick-off meeting of the new action-oriented manual: A Prosecutor’s Guide to Radiological and Nuclear Crimes


Thanks to stringent regulatory control regimes enforced by states, the probability of a radiological or nuclear terrorist attack remains relatively low. However, given the major impact of such an incident, it is crucial to ensure a coherent and well-planned response.

Terrorists seek to obtain radiological and nuclear (RN) materials in order to kill or cause injury to others. They may wish to detonate a “dirty bomb” or expose others to the harmful health effects of these materials, with their ultimate objective being to cause a maximum level of harm and panic among the population. Although it is necessary to have a sophisticated level of expertise and certain special conditions to create a powerful bomb, the availability of open-source literature makes the possibility of this crime more likely. Access to RN materials has also recently become more realistic due to such negative factors as the growing nexus between crime and terrorism, ongoing regional instabilities, uncontrolled territories, and the abundance of materials as part of some states’ historical heritage.

In order to thwart the illicit trafficking of RN materials, investigative and prosecutorial authorities may intervene at any stage in the process of their acquisition, stockpiling, production, transfer, use or misuse. Prosecutors need to provide a very strong case in the court of law to convince the judge of the deliberate nature of such crime and this must be supported with immaculate evidence. Yet, it takes many years for the criminal case to go from the crime scene to adjudication in the courtroom, which may impact the evidence’s integrity.

One of the most challenging parts of these cases is the crime scene is contaminated with chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) materials. As a result, different response methodologies and additional mechanisms are required to protect investigators, first responders and other actors, and to keep the evidence intact. Fortunately, some of these procedures are already well referenced and covered in various manuals published by partner international organizations.   

In 2022, in close cooperation with relevant partner international organizations, UNICRI started developing its series of action-oriented guidance manuals “From the Crime Scene to the Courtroom”, dedicated to prosecutors, investigators, law enforcement and judicial authorities. This initiative was endorsed by partner countries within the framework of the European Union CBRN Risk Mitigation Centres of Excellence Initiative (EU CBRN CoE) and fully funded by the Service for Foreign Policy Instruments (FPI) of the European Commission.

This led to the issuance and dissemination of the A Prosecutor’s Guide to Chemical and Biological Crimes, which became central in the development of capacity-building activities aimed at enhancing knowledge and skills about the entire process of investigating a case, starting from the crime scene contaminated with chemical and biological materials to the eventual prosecution and adjudication of the crime in the courtroom.

The second publication in this series of guidebooks is entitled A Prosecutor’s Guide to Radiological and Nuclear Crimes and will be developed by UNICRI in close coordination with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the Nuclear Forensics Centre of the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission, and the International Association of Prosecutors (IAP). The kick-off meeting was held on 28 February 2023 with the participation of over 30 people including representatives from international organizations and funding institutions, subject matter experts, regional partners, and other relevant stakeholders.

A Prosecutor’s Guide to Radiological and Nuclear Crimes will be a complementary document for prosecutors, investigators and judges. It will include practical tips, lessons learned and best practices from real criminal case examples, which can serve as a useful precedent. Step-by-step recommendations for the successful investigation and prosecution of radiological and nuclear crimes will be an integral part of the Guide. Equally, international conventions and legal instruments, aspects of legislation and criminalization, an explanation of national capabilities in investigation and prosecution – including investigative intelligence –, prosecutorial challenges, success stories and appeal processes will all also be addressed by this new guiding tool.