Nuclear forensics helps ensure the nation never experiences nuclear terrorism.
The National Technical Nuclear Forensics Center was established October 1, 2006 within the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office. The center has three primary missions identified by Presidential Directive and affirmed in the Nuclear Forensics and Attribution Act (Public Law 111-140) which President Obama signed into law on February 16, 2010. These missions are to serve as program integrator and steward for the U.S. Government to ensure a ready, robust, and enduring nuclear forensics capability, to advance capabilities to conduct forensics on nuclear and other radioactive materials, and to lead the National Nuclear Forensics Expertise Development Program.
“There’s still much too much material — nuclear, chemical, biological — being stored without enough protection. There are still terrorists and criminal gangs doing everything they can to get their hands on it. And make no mistake, if they get it, they will use it; potentially killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people, perhaps triggering a global crisis.” (President Barack Obama, National War College, December 3, 2012)
The U.S. must have the ability to determine those responsible for nuclear smuggling, as well as attacks, both executed and planned. This is based on fusing intelligence, law enforcement, and nuclear forensics information. Nuclear forensics serves as the technical component of our capability to attribute nuclear events. As such, it is a keystone of the U.S. policy "to hold fully accountable any state, terrorist group, or other non-state actor that supports or enables terrorist efforts to obtain or use weapons of mass destruction." (Nuclear Posture Review Report, April 2010)
Nuclear forensics helps counter smuggling of nuclear materials that could be used in an attack. Through its ability to trace the source of interdicted materials to their place of origin, nuclear forensics can help identify and close down smuggling networks and prosecute those responsible.
The U.S. response to any attack will have to be backed up by demonstrable proof. Nuclear forensics contributes to this demonstrable proof by helping to identify the type of weapon and nuclear material used and where it came from. Importantly, this capability works to deter such attacks, since nations who are complicit will be discovered.