Nuclear forensics is important to our national security. Actions, including provision of appropriate funding, are needed now to sustain and improve the nation's nuclear forensics capabilities. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), working with cooperating agencies and national laboratories, should plan and implement a sustainable, effective nuclear forensics program.
Nuclear forensics is the examination and evaluation of discovered or seized nuclear materials and devices or, in cases of nuclear explosions or radiological dispersals, of detonation signals and post-detonation debris. Nuclear forensic evidence helps law enforcement and intelligence agencies work toward preventing, mitigating, and attributing a nuclear or radiological incident. This report, requested by DHS, the National Nuclear Security Administration, and the Department of Defense, makes recommendations on how to sustain and improve U.S. nuclear forensics capabilities.
The United States has developed a nuclear forensics capability that has been demonstrated in real-world incidents of interdicted materials and in exercises of actions required after a nuclear detonation. The committee, however, has concerns about the program and finds that without strong leadership, careful planning, and additional funds, these capabilities will decline.
Major areas of concern include:
Organization. The responsibility for nuclear forensics is shared by several agencies without central authority and with no consensus on strategic requirements to guide the program. This organizational complexity hampers the program and could prove to be a major hindrance operationally.
Sustainability. The nation's current nuclear forensics capabilities are available primarily because the system of laboratories, equipment, and personnel upon which they depend was developed and funded by the nuclear weapons program. However, the weapons program's funds are declining.
Workforce and Infrastructure. Personnel skilled in nuclear forensics are too few and are spread too thinly. Some key facilities are in need of replacement because they are old, outdated, and not built to modern environmental, health, and safety standards.
Procedures and Tools. Most nuclear forensics techniques were developed to carry out Cold War missions and to satisfy a different, less restrictive set of environmental, health, and safety standards. Some of the equipment also does not reflect today's technical capabilities.
The Executive Office of the President established the National Technical Nuclear Forensics Center under the direction of the Secretary of Homeland Security, to coordinate
nuclear forensics in the United States. DHS's responsibility can only be carried out with the cooperation and support of the other agencies involved.
The committee recommends the following. DHS and the other cooperating agencies should:
Streamline the organizational structure, aligning authority and responsibility; and develop and issue appropriate requirements documents.
Issue a coordinated and integrated implementation plan for fulfilling the requirements and sustaining and improving the program's capabilities. This plan would form the basis for the agencies' multi-year program budget requests.
Implement a plan to build and maintain an appropriately sized and composed nuclear forensics workforce, ensuring sufficient staffing at the national laboratories and support for university research, training programs, and collaborative relationships among the national laboratories and other organizations.
Adapt nuclear forensics to the challenges of real emergency situations, including, for example, conducting more realistic exercises that are unannounced and that challenge regulations and procedures followed in the normal work environment, and implementing lessons learned.
The national laboratories should:
Optimize procedures and equipment through R&D to meet program requirements. Modeling and simulation should play an increased role in research, development, and planning.
The nuclear forensics community should:
Develop standards and procedures for nuclear forensics that are rooted in the same underlying principles that have been recommended to guide modern forensic science.
DHS and the other cooperating agencies should:
Devise and implement a plan that enables access to relevant information in databases—including classified and proprietary databases—for nuclear forensics missions.
The Executive Office of the President and the Department of State, working with the community of nuclear forensics experts, should:
Determine the classes of data and methods that are to be shared internationally and explore mechanisms to accomplish that sharing.