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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Nuclear Forensics

Fact Sheet
Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation
March 28, 2012


Nuclear forensics is the comprehensive scientific analysis of nuclear or other radioactive material or evidence contaminated by radioactive materials and plays an increasingly significant role in fostering cooperation between governments that investigate nuclear material security incidents.

Nuclear Forensics is an Important Aspect of Nuclear Security Preparedness

Nuclear forensics helps identify the origin of seized materials or devices. When combined with intelligence and law enforcement information, nuclear forensics can help to attribute incidents to perpetrators and facilitators, and aids national leadership in effectively responding to such incidents, including prosecution efforts. Nuclear forensics also helps to identify smuggling networks and vulnerabilities in countries’ security measures. By identifying these threats, countries are then able to take action to mitigate them by, for example, implementing improved safeguards and physical protection measures.

International Collaboration in Nuclear Forensics is Essential

Nuclear forensics provides a means for governments to work together to improve nuclear material security and prevent nuclear terrorism. International cooperation in nuclear forensics enhances the ability of countries to collaborate in the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the illicit use of materials and provides greater insight about potential links among historical or future incidents.

National Nuclear Forensics Libraries Provide a Framework for Cooperation

National nuclear forensics libraries are an integral part of a framework for governments to cooperate in investigating illicit uses of nuclear material. A national library allows a country to quickly assess whether lost or stolen material is consistent with its own material holdings, or alternatively, is not consistent, thus suggesting another country of origin. A national nuclear forensic library consists of information pertaining to the inventory of nuclear and other radioactive material produced, used, or stored by a country. Libraries may also contain actual physical samples of materials.

Nuclear Forensics and the Nuclear Security Summit 2012

Nuclear forensics was highlighted in the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit Communiqué and Work Plan as an important tool for countering illicit nuclear trafficking, and governments committed to cooperating to further develop capabilities. Since the 2010 Summit, the United States has continued to play a leading role in advancing international collaboration and national capacity building. For example, the United States engaged with nations through the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Nuclear Forensics International Technical Working Group, as well as through bilateral channels. The results of these efforts include significant improvements to the foundational elements of nuclear forensics by developing a framework for national nuclear forensics libraries, a national nuclear forensics classification guide, an initial nuclear forensic lexicon to facilitate communication within the international community, and expertise in nuclear forensics through scholarships and university awards.

U.S. Nuclear Forensics: An Integrated Approach

National Technical Nuclear Forensics (NTNF) is the U.S. Government program to develop, sustain and advance the nation’s nuclear forensic capabilities. Six federal organizations form the core of the NTNF community: the Department of Justice/Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Departments of Energy, Defense, Homeland Security, and State, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The Department of Energy National Laboratories in concert with the Air Force Technical Applications Center provides the technical expertise to perform forensic analyses of nuclear or other radioactive materials.

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