Nuclear forensics: more talk, little funding

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By Roger Snodgrass

A month past the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, a robust program for nuclear forensics has been touted as a future livelihood for the nuclear weapons labs, but serious plans and recommendations have yet to get to the drawing board.

The possibility of nuclear weapons reaching the hands of terrorists, while technically difficult, has often been described as a matter of “not if, but when.”

Analysts have remarked on the problem of attributing responsibility for detonation of a “dirty bomb,” which could be used to disperse radioactive material in urban settings, as one of many scenarios that might someday require a complex and coordinated response.

“A forensic ability that can trace material to the originating reactor or enrichment facility could discourage state cooperation with terrorist elements and encourage better security for nuclear weapons usable materials,” according to an influential scientific report delivered earlier this year.

“In addition, most terrorist organizations will not have members skilled in all aspects of handling nuclear weapons or building an improvised nuclear device. That expertise is found in a small pool of people and a credible attribution capability may deter some who are principally motivated by financial, rather than ideological concerns.”

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