LONDON — Britain plans to share previously secret expertise on detecting the illegal trafficking of radiological material and halting potential nuclear terrorism, the country's deputy prime minister told a security summit Tuesday.
Speaking at an international nuclear security conference in Seoul, South Korea, Nick Clegg said Britain would work with law enforcement agencies from across the world to offer help on limiting the spread of illicit nuclear material.
Disclosing previously classified details of Britain's work against nuclear terrorism, he said that since 2001 the country had used high-tech equipment to detect radiological and nuclear material being moved into the U.K. — though he did not offer specifics on the type of technology used.
Clegg also told delegates that Britain's military maintains emergency teams ready to respond to dirty bombs — crude weapons intended to create a radioactive cloud in an urban setting — or other improvised nuclear devices which could potentially be used by terrorists.
"We have for some time had specialist teams ready to deploy, detect and ... defuse a terrorist nuclear device," Clegg said.
Clegg told the summit that he was publicizing the previously secret work because Britain planned to open a new nuclear forensics laboratory aimed at sharing techniques with allies.
Britain had "been using cutting edge technology for over a decade to guard our borders against a nuclear terrorist threat. It is time to share that information so we can all raise our game," he said.
The Home Office, which is responsible for border security, said that under a program code-named Cyclamen staff at airports and ports use scanners to detect unusual radiation and fissile nuclear material.
The ministry declined to discuss whether any significant cases had been detected, though Britain has not seen any major prosecutions for offenses linked to attempts to smuggle nuclear material into the U.K.
Although he did not offer specifics on the type of technologies involved, Clegg said Britain would share research with allies at a laboratory based at the U.K.'s main atomic weapons research center in Aldermaston, southern England.
Clegg said Britain is regarded as a world leader in work to trace the source of nuclear or radiological material from so-called fingerprints gleaned from specific chemical or physical characteristics.
The new center will advise other countries on the techniques, and on how to recover conventional forensic evidence — such as fingerprints or DNA — from radiologically contaminated items.
"Nuclear terrorism is a very real and global threat. 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 summit.