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A diagnostic technique based on the Cherenkov effect is proposed for detection and characterization of fast (super-thermal and runaway) electrons in fusion devices. The detectors of Cherenkov radiation have been specially designed for measurements in the ISTTOK tokamak. Properties of several materials have been studied to determine the most appropriate one to be used as a radiator of Cherenkov emission in the detector. This technique has enabled the detection of energetic electrons (70 keV and higher) and the determination of their spatial and temporal variations in the ISTTOK discharges. Measurement of hard x-ray emission has also been carried out in experiments for validation of the measuring capabilities of the Cherenkov-type detector and a high correlation was found between the data of both diagnostics. A reasonable agreement was found between experimental data and the results of numerical modeling of the runaway electron generation in ISTTOK.