Nuclear Forensics: Comprehensive Interagency Plan Needed to Address Human Capital Issues

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Correspondence issued by the Government Accountability Office with an abstract that begins "The detonation of a nuclear weapon or radiological dispersal device (RDD) in the United States or elsewhere would cause decision makers to immediately demand information on the nature of the device--including its design, the materials used to build it, and the materials' source--as well as the identification of the perpetrators. Technical nuclear forensics--the analysis of nuclear or radiological materials that are intercepted or the radioactive debris and prompt output signals (such as gamma rays) produced by a nuclear event--can contribute to the identification of the sources of these ... continued below

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United States. Government Accountability Office. April 30, 2009.

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Description

Correspondence issued by the Government Accountability Office with an abstract that begins "The detonation of a nuclear weapon or radiological dispersal device (RDD) in the United States or elsewhere would cause decision makers to immediately demand information on the nature of the device--including its design, the materials used to build it, and the materials' source--as well as the identification of the perpetrators. Technical nuclear forensics--the analysis of nuclear or radiological materials that are intercepted or the radioactive debris and prompt output signals (such as gamma rays) produced by a nuclear event--can contribute to the identification of the sources of these materials and the processes used to create them. Analytical techniques developed to determine the nature of nuclear tests can be used if terrorists were to detonate a nuclear device or RDD and radioactive debris samples were recovered (known as "postdetonation" nuclear forensics). Nuclear forensic techniques also could potentially be used to determine the origin of nuclear or radiological materials or devices seized prior to their use in a weapon (known as "predetonation" nuclear forensics). The U.S. government's predetonation nuclear forensics capabilities have been demonstrated in investigations on seized nuclear material from illicit smuggling operations. In addition, it is important to note that nuclear forensics represents a key piece of the overall effort to identify specific perpetrators of a nuclear event, in a process known as attribution. The combination of nuclear forensics conclusions, law enforcement findings (e.g., traditional forensics, such as fingerprint analysis), and intelligence information can be used to attribute an event to specific perpetrators. The departments of Defense (DOD), Energy (DOE), Homeland Security (DHS), and State (State), as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the intelligence community, would play key roles in a nuclear forensics investigation. The specific roles these agencies would play were established in August 2007 through a presidential decision directive. This directive also formally established the National Technical Nuclear Forensics Center (NTNFC) within DHS's Domestic Nuclear Detection Office to coordinate planning, integration, assessment, and stewardship of the U.S. government's nuclear forensics capabilities. NTNFC has chartered a number of interagency groups to guide policy making for the National Technical Nuclear Forensics (NTNF) program and has led the development of key interagency documents such as the NTNF strategic plan. In this context, Congress asked GAO to assess the (1) challenges the U.S. government faces in developing and maintaining a comprehensive nuclear forensics capability and (2) current and future costs associated with the U.S. government's nuclear forensics efforts."

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Government Accountability Office Reports

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for the U.S. Congress investigating how the federal government spends taxpayers' money. Its goal is to increase accountability and improve the performance of the federal government. The Government Accountability Office Reports Collection consists of over 13,000 documents on a variety of topics ranging from fiscal issues to international affairs.

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  • April 30, 2009

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  • June 12, 2014, 7:50 p.m.

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United States. Government Accountability Office. Nuclear Forensics: Comprehensive Interagency Plan Needed to Address Human Capital Issues, text, April 30, 2009; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc296634/: accessed October 18, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.