U.S. and Russian Collaboration in the Area of Nuclear Forensics

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Nuclear forensics has become increasingly important in the fight against illicit trafficking in nuclear and other radioactive materials. The illicit trafficking of nuclear materials is, of course, an international problem; nuclear materials may be mined and milled in one country, manufactured in a second country, diverted at a third location, and detected at a fourth. There have been a number of articles in public policy journals in the past year that call for greater interaction between the U. S. and the rest of the world on the topic of nuclear forensics. Some believe that such international cooperation would help provide ... continued below

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Kristo, M J October 22, 2007.

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Nuclear forensics has become increasingly important in the fight against illicit trafficking in nuclear and other radioactive materials. The illicit trafficking of nuclear materials is, of course, an international problem; nuclear materials may be mined and milled in one country, manufactured in a second country, diverted at a third location, and detected at a fourth. There have been a number of articles in public policy journals in the past year that call for greater interaction between the U. S. and the rest of the world on the topic of nuclear forensics. Some believe that such international cooperation would help provide a more certain capability to identify the source of the nuclear material used in a terrorist event. An improved international nuclear forensics capability would also be important as part of the IAEA verification toolkit, particularly linked to increased access provided by the additional protocol. A recent study has found that, although international progress has been made in securing weapons-usable HEU and Pu, the effort is still insufficient. They found that nuclear material, located in 40 countries, could be obtained by terrorists and criminals and used for a crude nuclear weapon. Through 2006, the IAEA Illicit Trafficking Database had recorded a total of 607 confirmed events involving illegal possession, theft, or loss of nuclear and other radioactive materials. Although it is difficult to predict the future course of such illicit trafficking, increasingly such activities are viewed as significant threats that merit the development of special capabilities. As early as April, 1996, nuclear forensics was recognized at the G-8 Summit in Moscow as an important element of an illicit nuclear trafficking program. Given international events over the past several years, the value and need for nuclear forensics seems greater than ever. Determining how and where legitimate control of nuclear material was lost and tracing the route of the material from diversion through interdiction are important goals for nuclear forensics and attribution. It is equally important to determine whether additional devices or materials that pose a threat to public safety are also available. Finding the answer to these questions depends on determining the source of the material and its method of production. Nuclear forensics analysis and interpretation provide essential insights into methods of production and sources of illicit radioactive materials. However, they are most powerful when combined with other sources of information, including intelligence and traditional detective work. The certainty of detection and punishment for those who remove nuclear materials from legitimate control provides the ultimate deterrent for such diversion and, ultimately, for the intended goal of such diversion, including nuclear terrorism or proliferation. Consequently, nuclear forensics is an integral part of 'nuclear deterrence' in the 21st century. Nuclear forensics will always be limited by the diagnostic information inherent in the interdicted material. Important markers for traditional forensics (fingerprints, stray material, etc.) can be eliminated or obscured, but many nuclear materials have inherent isotopic or chemical characteristics that serve as unequivocal markers of specific sources, production processes, or transit routes. The information needed for nuclear forensics goes beyond that collected for most commercial and international verification activities. Fortunately, the international nuclear engineering enterprise has a restricted number of conspicuous process steps that makes the interpretation process easier. Ultimately, though, it will always be difficult to distinguish between materials that reflect similar source or production histories, but are derived from disparate sites. Due to the significant capital costs of the equipment and the specialized expertise of the personnel, work in the field of nuclear forensics has been restricted so far to a handful of national and international laboratories. There are a limited number of specialists who have experience working with interdicted nuclear materials and affiliated evidence. Therefore, a knowledge management system that utilizes information resources relevant to nuclear forensic and attribution signatures, processes, origins, and pathways, allowing subject matter experts to access the right information in order to interpret forensics data and draw appropriate conclusions, is essential. In order to determine the origin, point of diversion of the nuclear material, and those responsible for the unauthorized transfer, close relationships are required between governments who maintain inventories and data of fissile or other radioactive materials. Numerous databases exist in many countries and organizations that could be valuable for the future development and application of nuclear forensics.

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PDF-file: 28 pages; size: 0.3 Mbytes

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  • Presented at: US/Russian Nuclear Security Cooperation Through 2015, Vienna, Austria, Nov 12 - Nov 13, 2007

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  • Report No.: UCRL-CONF-235977
  • Grant Number: W-7405-ENG-48
  • Office of Scientific & Technical Information Report Number: 923134
  • Archival Resource Key: ark:/67531/metadc893263

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Office of Scientific & Technical Information Technical Reports

Reports, articles and other documents harvested from the Office of Scientific and Technical Information.

Office of Scientific and Technical Information (OSTI) is the Department of Energy (DOE) office that collects, preserves, and disseminates DOE-sponsored research and development (R&D) results that are the outcomes of R&D projects or other funded activities at DOE labs and facilities nationwide and grantees at universities and other institutions.

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  • October 22, 2007

Added to The UNT Digital Library

  • Sept. 27, 2016, 1:39 a.m.

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  • Dec. 2, 2016, 4:30 p.m.

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Kristo, M J. U.S. and Russian Collaboration in the Area of Nuclear Forensics, article, October 22, 2007; Livermore, California. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc893263/: accessed December 13, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.