Nuclear Forensics - Role, State of the Art, Program Needs


This report was produced by a joint Working Group (WG) of the American Physical Society’s (APS) Panel on Public Affairs (POPA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy.

The primary purpose of this report is to provide the Congress, U.S. government agencies and other institutions involved in nuclear forensics with a clear unclassified statement of the state of the art of nuclear forensics; an assessment of its potential for preventing and identifying unattributed nuclear attacks; and identification of the policies, resources and human talent to fulfill that potential. The WG formally met twice, once in Washington, D.C., and once in Palo Alto, California, to hear presentations from staff of the Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, and Congress. The sessions were unclassified, although several members of the WG have access to classified material.

The WG took the approach of first learning about the status of nuclear forensics from the active participants in the program and then using its collective experience to judge the credibility and value of various options. All members of the group have been involved in the technical work, management, or review of nuclear weapons and/or forensics activities, most for several decades. Some are still working with the NNSA or the weapons laboratories in consultant roles, and some are part of other review mechanisms. As a group, the WG’s collective focus has been to examine the status and needs of the U.S. nuclear forensics effort.

A related topic, namely “dirty bombs” or radiological dispersal devices, is generally beyond the scope of this effort.


The interpretations and conclusions contained in this report are those of the authors and do not represent the views of the APS Executive Board, the AAAS Board of Directors, the APS and AAAS Councils and memberships, or the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.