Nuclear forensics helps ensure the nation never experiences nuclear terrorism.
“There’s still much too much material — nuclear, chemical, biological — being stored without enough protection. There are still terrorists and criminal gangs doing everything they can to get their hands on it. And make no mistake, if they get it, they will use it; potentially killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people, perhaps triggering a global crisis.” (President Barack Obama, National War College, December 3, 2012)
The U.S. must have the ability to determine those responsible for nuclear smuggling, as well as attacks, both executed and planned. This is based on fusing intelligence, law enforcement, and nuclear forensics information. Nuclear forensics serves as the technical component of our capability to attribute nuclear events. As such, it is a keystone of the U.S. policy to hold fully accountable any state, terrorist group, or other non-state actor that supports or enables terrorist efforts to obtain or use weapons of mass destruction.
Nuclear forensics helps counter smuggling of nuclear materials that could be used in an attack. Through its ability to trace the source of interdicted materials to their place of origin, nuclear forensics can help identify and close down smuggling networks and prosecute those responsible.
The U.S. response to any attack will have to be backed up by demonstrable proof. Nuclear forensics contributes to this demonstrable proof by helping to identify the type of weapon and nuclear material used and where it came from. Importantly, this capability works to deter such attacks, since nations who are complicit will be discovered.
The National Technical Nuclear Forensics Center was established October 1, 2006 within the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office. The center has three primary missions identified by Presidential Directive and affirmed in the Nuclear Forensics and Attribution Act (Public Law 111-140) which President Obama signed into law on February 16, 2010. These missions are to serve as program integrator and steward for the U.S. Government to ensure a ready, robust, and enduring nuclear forensics capability, to advance capabilities to conduct forensics on nuclear and other radioactive materials, and to lead the National Nuclear Forensics Expertise Development Program.
The National Technical Nuclear Forensics Center ensures the operational readiness of the nation’s nuclear forensics capability to respond to an event without warning through leading centralized planning, integration of interagency efforts, exercises, assessments, and through the stewardship of the nation’s nuclear forensics capabilities, in coordination with the federal departments and agencies who have assigned responsibilities for nuclear forensics. In addition to the Department of Homeland Security, these include the Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of State, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
The National Technical Nuclear Forensics Center also advances the capability to perform forensics on nuclear and other radioactive materials in a pre-detonation (intact) state, such as interdicted smuggled materials. To fulfill this mission, the center with federal partners relies upon the preeminent expertise residing in Department of Energy National Laboratories and standards development laboratories.
Lastly, the center leads the National Nuclear Forensics Expertise Development Program, mandated by the Nuclear Forensics and Attribution Act. The program is the government’s comprehensive effort to grow and sustain the uniquely qualified technical expertise required to execute the nation’s nuclear forensics mission. All student and university initiatives in the program are integrated, aligned, and inextricably linked at every point to U.S. Government nuclear forensics priorities, projects, and the cadre of scientists who specialize in nuclear weapons and materials activities at the National Laboratories.
Domestic Nuclear Detection Office MS0550
Department Of Homeland Security
245 Murray Lane SW
Washington DC 20528-0550