Many of the recommendations offered in this chapter call for an organized, focused, and adequately funded R&D effort to counter nuclear and radiological terrorism, as well as additional scientific, technical, and policy actions to reduce the nation’s vulnerability to terrorist attacks, sometimes in cooperation with other national governments. To be effective, these efforts must bring to bear the best scientific and technical resources available to the federal government and must be well coordinated with other federal R&D and counterterrorism activities.
Important progress is already being made by the R&D and policy communities to reduce the nation’s vulnerability to nuclear and radiological terrorism. There is not much evidence, however, that the R&D activities are being coordinated, that thought is being given to prioritizing these activities against other national counterterrorism needs, or that effective mechanisms are in place to transfer the results of these activities into application. Presumably the newly established Office of Homeland Security will take a lead role in the national counterterrorism effort, but that office does not have the expertise or budget to oversee a broad R&D effort.
The effectiveness of the nation’s counterterrorism efforts could be improved if one agency were given the lead responsibility for coordinating and prioritizing, in consultation with other interested agencies, nuclear and radiological counterterrorism R&D. Several federal agencies have R&D responsibilities and could potentially take the lead: DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) already has a large R&D effort on many of the issues addressed in this chapter and is carrying out that work at the three national laboratories under its control.16 The DOD’s DTRA is carrying out R&D work to reduce threats from chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons of mass destruction. This work is being carried out primarily by DOD contractors, including NNSA national laboratories. The USNRC also sponsors R&D on NPP safety and vulnerabilities, and some of this work is carried out at NNSA national laboratories.
Given its large budget and broad scope of current work, it appears that DOE-NNSA is best positioned to take a lead role for R&D on nuclear and radiological terrorism. The committee, however, has not had an opportunity to study this issue in detail, especially to examine the current R&D portfolios of NNSA and DTRA or their strategic planning documents. The President’s science advisor, working with DOE, DOD, USNRC, and other agencies with a stake in this decision, may be in the best position to develop a recommendation to the President regarding which agency should take a lead role in this important R&D effort. The designation of a lead agency also will require approval from the U.S. Congress.