National Nuclear Security Administration

NNSA sponsoring a deep dive into U.S. nuclear forensics capabilities

March 28, 2019

You are here

Jay Tilden, NNSA Associate Administrator and Deputy Under Secretary for Counterterrorism and Counterproliferation speaking about nuclear forensics at the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.
Jay Tilden, NNSA Associate Administrator and Deputy Under Secretary for Counterterrorism and Counterproliferation speaking about nuclear forensics at the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.
A puzzle explaining interagency partnerships on nuclear forensics
A puzzle explaining interagency partnerships on nuclear forensics.

Enhancing nuclear forensics is an investment in the future safety of all Americans. This highly-technical field involves the investigation of nuclear material to find evidence for its source, trafficking, signatures, and use.

Members of NNSA’s nuclear forensic enterprise, including the Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Research and Development, Office of Nuclear Smuggling Detection and Deterrence, and Office of Counterterrorism and Counterproliferation, along with interagency partners, assembled at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) in Washington, D.C., earlier this month for the first meeting of the Committee on Enhancing U.S. Nuclear Forensics and Attribution Support Capabilities. The committee is conducting a congressionally mandated study on enhancing the U.S. government’s competence in nuclear forensics.

Our ability to identify the origin of nuclear material, devices, or a detonation is a crucial pillar of deterrence.

Jay A. Tilden
Associate Administrator and Deputy Under Secretary for Counterterrorism and Counterproliferation

“The capabilities built within the national laboratory system can handle the broad range of nuclear forensics science – from treaty verification, through nuclear material analysis, to the unattributed detonation of a nuclear device,” said Jay A. Tilden, Associate Administrator and Deputy Under Secretary for Counterterrorism and Counterproliferation. “Our ability to identify the origin of nuclear material, devices, or a detonation is a crucial pillar of deterrence.”

The 2010 NASEM report on U.S. nuclear forensic analyses identified four areas for improvement: organizational complexity; sustainability; workforce and infrastructure; and procedures and tools. Tilden updated the group on USG efforts and set the stage for the new independent assessment expected next year.

The next report will include:

  • An assessment of nuclear forensic analyses from across Federal departments and agencies, with an emphasis on the validity, quality, value, cost effectiveness, gaps, and timeliness of such analyses
  • An assessment of the scientific rigor of methodologies used by nuclear forensics analyses from across the Federal departments and agencies
  • Recommendations for improving nuclear forensics analyses conducted by the Federal government, including any best practices or lessons learned

Tilden also spoke about the processes in which U.S. nuclear forensics partners coordinate and integrate their efforts in support of these mission areas.

“We work in a community that actually likes each other,” Tilden said. “Even if we have a competitive nature, we get along well. It’s easy to pick up the phone and say, ‘Hey, what was that all about?’ ”

Learn more about NNSA’s Counterterrorism mission.