The array of measures to counter illegal trafficking of radioactive material is reinforced by a new ISO International Standard for instruments used in detection and monitoring at borders and any type of control point where people or goods are checked.

In the hands of terrorists, radioactive materials can be used for malicious purposes, such as the building of nuclear weapons, or they may be smuggled by criminals for gain. Even without malicious or criminal intent, radioactive materials may have serious negative health and safety consequences on workers, the general public and the environment. In view of the proliferation threat and the potential hazard of radioactive materials, the scrupulous monitoring of traffic and commodities is critical.

Published by ISO (International Organization for Standardization), ISO 22188:2004, Monitoring for inadvertent movement and illicit trafficking of radioactive material, will enable the more efficient use of equipment used to identify radioactive substances, provide a common technical base for countries to establish monitoring activities at their borders that will help detect and counteract the illicit trafficking in radioactive materials, as well as facilitating communication between them on such issues.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency Illicit Trafficking Database, a total of 884 incidents involving illicit trafficking in nuclear and other radioactive materials had been recorded between January 1993 and December 2003. The majority of the confirmed incidents were criminal in nature, involving theft, illegal possession, smuggling, or intent to sell the material illegally.

Karl Grün, project leader of the ISO group of experts that developed ISO 22188:2004 explained its significance: "The contribution of ISO 22188 towards international efforts in counter-proliferation and radiation protection is done in such a way that instruments, either installed, hand-held or pocket-type, in compliance with the requirements of the standard will be capable of detecting radioactive materials, irrespective of whether such movement of radioactive material is intentionally unauthorized (illicit trafficking) or unintentionally unauthorized (inadvertent movement)."

"One major benefit is the enhancement of communication across borders. One further aspect is, that if such devices operate in compliance with ISO 22188 unauthorized movement of radioactive materials can be intercepted at checkpoints such as at borders."

In addition to providing guidelines on the use of both stationary and portable (e.g. hand-held) instruments to monitor radioactive material, ISO 22188:2004 covers operational aspects such search techniques, locating and possibly identifying radioactive substances at border checkpoints - from international land borders to maritime ports, airports and similar locations where goods or individuals are checked.

The new standard is aimed at regulatory authorities seeking guidance on implementation of action plans to combat illicit trafficking, to law enforcement agencies (e.g. border guards) needing guidelines on recommended monitoring procedures, and to equipment manufacturers.

ISO Secretary-General Alan Bryden commented: "ISO 22188 provides another example of the growth in scope of ISO whose standards not only provide technical solutions, but also bring wider economic and societal benefits, including the protection of health, safety and the environment, and practical answers to today's international concerns over security."

While ISO 22188 describes practical procedures and the associated instrument requirements, IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission), which has been following its progress, is developing standards for the instruments themselves.

ISO 22188:2004 costs 122 Swiss francs and is available from ISO national member institutes and from ISO Central Secretariat. The new standard is the work of ISO technical committee ISO/TC 85, Nuclear energy, subcommittee SC 2, Radiation protection.