Development Hungary: Research in Nuclear Protection

Author / Editor: Zsolt Meszaros, Editor in Chief, MM Muszaki Magazin / Susanne Hertenberger

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has set up its new institution in the Centre for Energy Research of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has set up its new institution in the Centre for Energy Research of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has set up its new institution in the Centre for Energy Research of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences

As a global pioneer, Hungarian Academy of Sciences - Centre for Energy Research (HAS-CER) has been given the opportunity to develop institutional collaboration with the IAEA in the field of nuclear protection.

Nuclear forensic analytics

Nuclear forensic analytics developed globally in the early 1990s, when this matter was of great concern in Hungary as well. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, illegal trade of nuclear materials increased throughout Europe. Analysis of the materials confiscated from smugglers gave an increasing workload to specialists in Hungary.

This procedure, that is the analysis of confiscated or found nuclear materials and the determination of their origin, was delegated by a government decision to the then existing Isotope Research Institution of the HAS in 1996. Researchers of the HAS have so gained 20 years of experience in this field. The competence and research potential of the employees of the predecessor of HAS-CER has contributed significantly to the elaboration of characteristic analysis of various materials (such as nuclear fuel pellets, Uranium-containing powders etc.) as well as the accurate interpretation of research data.

From the mid 2000s researchers supplemented their activities with further techniques – such as mass spectrometry and electron microscopy – and initialized the systematic elaboration of nuclear forensic competence. Participation in international analyses began, where Hungary performed very well beside the other collaborating countries, such as the USA, Great Britain, Australia, Canada and Germany. Throughout these analyses, unknown nuclear materials have been handed to the various laboratories and their nuclear forensic procedures were qualified by contrasting their test results. Hungarian testing practice became known and acknowledged. Collaboration with the IAEA in this field also started to strengthen around this time.

New methods, programs, laboratories

In the recent 4-5 years the scope of activities has broadened further with the introduction of new analytics methods, the training of a new young expert team, the installation of new laboratory premises as well as the extension of the field of activities. Parts of this latter are the international trainings and fellowships delegated to HAS-CER by the Joint Research Centers of the European Union and IAEA as well as technical developments, such as, for example, a mobile laboratory containing highly sensitive detectors to help disaster management in the case of eventual radiological emergencies.

A testing laboratory has been set up within the research centre in which various radiological measuring instruments can be tested under controlled conditions, helping the manufacturers of the instruments in various product improvements and the development of more sensitive detecting systems in the interest of more efficient identification of smuggled materials.

One of the cornerstones of the defense against globally present and expanding terrorist threats is that the Agency is striving to boost the nuclear protection of member states. Integral part of this effort is the availability and continuous development of forensic analytics. The several decades’ competence and experience available in Hungary as well as the unique system (especially well functioning collaboration with authorities and national nuclear establishments) provided a good base on which a regional and international research laboratory could be established within HAS-CER.

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