Nuclear Forensics and Attribution
A Nuclear Forensics Ground Collection Team in protection equipment screens a debris sample in a field exercise in Idaho. (DTRA photo)
Nuclear forensics – the ability to identify the source of nuclear material from radioactive debris – is critical to our national defense and security. Swift and accurate forensic and attribution (identification) capabilities are vital to developing an appropriate national response to a nuclear event and preventing future attacks in a timely manner.
The Defense Science Board Task Force emphasized the need to improve U.S. nuclear forensics capabilities in 2000. Soon after, DTRA initiated the Domestic Nuclear Event Attribution (DNEA) program to address and improve overall U.S. capabilities by integrating interagency partners in the field of nuclear forensics.
The successes of the DNEA program evolved into an expanded National Technical Nuclear Forensics (NTNF) program with increased capabilities to collect, analyze and evaluate nuclear data and debris. Participation from numerous federal agencies and laboratories includes the Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Energy, Department of State, the intelligence community, the U.S. Strategic Command Center for Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction (SCC-WMD) and the Air Force Technical Application Center.
DTRA’s role under the NTNF program includes developing a robust capability to characterize post-nuclear detonation radioactive materials through a ground sample collection capability, analysis and evaluation of collected materials with existing laboratory data for attribution, and an exercise program to sustain post-detonation nuclear forensics.
DTRA’s leadership also extends to managing the Nuclear Forensics Research and Development program as part of a coordinated agency effort to provide new technologies and technical solutions to nuclear forensics missions.
As part of the NTNF program, DTRA also deploys teams to exercise capabilities with the combatant commands (COCOM) such as USNORTHCOM and USPACOM, and works with the USSTRATCOM Center for Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction to sustain strong COCOM support of nuclear defense.
The agency maintains a cadre of personnel trained and equipped to respond globally to any nuclear or radiological incident.