At the end of last month, the National Research Council (NRC) released a report warning that U.S. nuclear forensics capacity -- or the ability to determine the origin of material used in a nuclear explosion or for nuclear terrorism -- was dangerously eroding, despite renewed government efforts to bolster it.
"Although U.S. nuclear forensics capabilities are substantial and can be improved, right now they are fragile, under-resourced and, in some respects, deteriorating," the report concluded. "Without strong leadership, careful planning and additional funds, these capabilities will decline." The public document, entitled "Nuclear Forensics: A Capability at Risk," summarized a classified report conducted by a dozen eminent experts for the Departments of Defense, Energy, and Homeland Security
The report focused on two general deficiencies: the declining U.S. resources devoted to nuclear forensics and the flawed manner in which the U.S. government was conducting its program. In the former category, the authors noted with alarm the insufficient number of specialists trained in nuclear forensics, the aging equipment and infrastructure in the national laboratories dedicated to the practice, and inadequate funding. With regard to program planning, the report complained about weak central coordination among the large number of agencies supporting U.S. nuclear forensics efforts, uncertainty over national-level requirements for nuclear forensics programs, the need for greater international collaboration in this area, and the limited number of exercises involving nuclear forensics scenarios.