RESTORING AND IMPROVING
Nuclear Forensics to Support
Attribution and Deterrence
Committee on Enhancing U.S. Nuclear Forensics and Attribution Support Capabilities
Committee on International Security and Arms Control
Policy and Global Affairs
A Consensus Study Report of
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This activity was supported by Contract No. DE-EP0000026/89233118FNA400124 between the National Academy of Sciences and the Department of Energy. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the view of the organizations or agencies that provided support for this project.
International Standard Book Number-13: 978-0-309-27333-6
International Standard Book Number-10: 0-309-27333-1
Digital Object Identifier: https://doi.org/10.17226/26167
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Suggested citation: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Restoring and Improving Nuclear Forensics to Support Attribution and Deterrence: Public Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/26167.
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COMMITTEE ON ENHANCING U.S. NUCLEAR FORENSICS AND ATTRIBUTION SUPPORT CAPABILITIES
Robert Rosner, Chair, William E. Wrather Distinguished Service Professor, University of Chicago
Marvin L. Adams, HTRI Professor of Nuclear Engineering and Director of the Institute for National Security Education and Research, Texas A&M University, College Station
Sue B. Clark, Regents Professor of Chemistry, Washington State University; and Battelle Fellow, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Donald L. Cook, Former Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs, National Nuclear Security Administration, Department of Energy
Donald J. DePaolo, Graduate Professor of Geochemistry and Senior Faculty Scientist, University of California, Berkeley
Michael Dunning, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (retired)
Steve Fetter, Associate Provost and Dean of the Graduate School, University of Maryland
Benjamin C. Garrett, Retired, Consultant, Argonne National Laboratory
Laura S. Holgate, Vice President for Materials Risk Management, Nuclear Threat Initiative
William Jeffrey, CEO, SRI International
Jenifer Shafer (until September 10, 2020), Associate Professor, Colorado School of Mines
Benjamin Rusek, Study Director
Jennifer Heimberg, Senior Program Officer
Marie C. Kirkegaard, Program Officer
Micah Lowenthal, Senior Program Director
Hope Hare, Administrative Assistant
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ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF REVIEWERS
This Consensus Study Report was reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in making each published report as sound as possible and to ensure that it meets the institutional standards for quality, objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process.
We thank the following individuals for their review of this report:
Although the reviewers listed above have provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Alton Romig, executive officer of the National Academy of Engineering. He was responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring committee and the National Academies.
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It has been the committee members’ collective experience that studies of this kind are fairly straightforward: the object of study is well defined and the charge tasks can be readily executed. However, this has not been our experience in executing this charge.
Early in our fact-gathering stage, we discerned that the actual organization of the federal nuclear forensics program did not correspond to what the available documentation had led us to expect. It became evident that the nuclear forensics program was undergoing a significant unplanned reorganization because leaders of some components of the previous nuclear forensics organizational structure had disengaged their agencies from active participation and funding, and that an effort to put in place a new organizational structure for the national nuclear forensics program was under way. While this study report was in review, a new National Security Presidential Memorandum on nuclear forensics (NSPM-35) was signed by the President on January 19, 2021. The committee is gratified to see that many of the steps that the committee recommends in the study report are included in the NSPM and its Implementation Plan. Some of the committee's findings and recommendations focus on addressing those issues, and are included to warn against the lapses that led to the observed need for remediation. Furthermore, the committee makes many recommendations that are not in the federal reports or plans.
Chapter 1 of the 2010 National Academies assessment of U.S. nuclear forensics capability, to which this study compared the current state of affairs, begins by proposing a hypothetical scenario (NAS, 2010, p. 14):
The sleepy morning haze in Dallas, or Atlanta, or Chicago, or New York, or Los Angeles is ripped apart by the blinding flash, the sudden shockwave, and the expanding fireball from a nuclear explosion in the heart of the city. Minutes later, the President of the United States, entrusted with the responsibility to protect and defend the nation, is seeking answers to several questions. What was it? How bad is the damage, and how much worse will it get? Who did it? Did they have help? Where did it come from? Was it ours? Are there more? And finally, what should we do about it?
The discipline of nuclear forensics plays a key role in answering these questions. This study’s findings and recommendations detail ways to improve U.S. nuclear forensics capabilities that help deter a nuclear device from being used against the United States or its allies and determine who is responsible if one is found or used. They outline a national strategy to ensure that nuclear forensics capability is given high priority and that improvements are sustained over the long term.
For the national strategy to be successful, the President and leaders charged with nuclear forensics must take action. There is no substitute for top-level leadership and for ensuring that departments and agencies fulfill their designated and even legislated responsibilities. With leadership that fosters initiative and invention to meet challenges and fulfill the mission, the program will not only make better progress toward its goals, but it will also provide the excitement that we see in active successful programs, rather than only a concern about how to preserve minimum functionality. Failure to stop an unclaimed nuclear attack or prevent additional attacks would cause
unprecedented harm to the United States. The nation deserves and needs a stronger deterrent against such attacks and the ability to attribute an attack in the event that deterrence fails. The nation deserves and needs stronger and more dedicated support for nuclear forensics.
Robert Rosner, Chair
Committee on Enhancing U.S. Nuclear Forensics
and Attribution Support Capabilities
This report could not have been completed without the cooperation of the many present and former federal agency staff members who have played central roles in building and maintaining U.S. nuclear forensics capabilities, as well as the staff members of the Air Force Technical Applications Center, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Department of Energy national laboratories charged with executing the operations and research and development at the heart of the U.S. nuclear forensics program. Randy Weidman, the National Nuclear Security Administration’s point of contact for the project, was especially helpful.
While we were fortunate that our committee’s investigation and interviews were largely complete by February 2020, the severe restrictions on travel and facility access due to the COVID-19 pandemic did substantially delay our ability to finish the study. Simply put, this report could not have been completed were it not for the hard work, dedication, and expertise of this committee’s National Academies staff, Benjamin Rusek, Jennifer Heimberg, Micah Lowenthal, Marie Kirkegaard, and Hope Hare, who persevered despite these difficulties.
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