The United States and Canada recently held the first joint nuclear forensics exercise between the two countries, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. The exercise simulated a nuclear detonation, allowing experts from both countries to improve operational readiness to respond to radiological or nuclear attacks. The advancement of international cooperation in nuclear forensics will help improve the ability of the U.S. and its allies to determine the source of a detonated device.
During the exercise, the United States Government’s National Technical Nuclear Forensics Ground Collection Task Force deployed to Canada at their request and practiced collecting samples of simulated nuclear debris near the site of the hypothetical detonation. This highly specialized task force is equipped to conduct collections in radioactive environments and includes scientists and experts in the fields of nuclear forensics, evidence collection, hazardous material, contamination control, and health physics. In the case of an actual event, these samples would be transported to designated U.S. laboratories for forensic analysis. Nuclear forensics conclusions inform intelligence and law enforcement operations in determining those responsible for the attack. These conclusions also help prevent further attacks from occurring.
This exercise was the culmination of an 18-month effort between the governments of the United States and Canada. Particularly, the close collaboration between DHS’s Domestic Nuclear Detection Office and the Canadian Department of National Defence, Canadian Joint Operations Command, Joint Task Force Atlantic, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police helped make this exercise a success. DHS also worked closely with the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration, the Department of State, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation throughout the planning and conduct of the exercise.
It is U.S. policy to hold fully accountable any state or non-state actor that willfully supports, enables, or engages in hostile nuclear activities that target or threaten the United States or our allies and partners. Nuclear forensics enables this policy by providing the scientific basis for identifying perpetrators and sponsors of nuclear terrorism.
The DHS Domestic Nuclear Detection Office serves as the national integrator for the United States’ nuclear forensics capabilities and, along with its partners, helps ensure that these capabilities are ready to respond to an event on the homeland or anywhere around the world.