Nuclear Forensics - the state of the art
The importance of rapid attribution
Until recently, it had always been assumed that the initial focus in dealing with an instance of nuclear or radiological terrorism would be on limiting the damage caused by the material. This sort of work is the responsibility of experts from nuclear laboratories. There are relatively few of these specialised laboratories worldwide.
However, it is equally important to trace the source of the material, asking questions such as ‘Where did it come from?’, ‘How did it get here?’ and ‘Who brought it here?’ In fact, finding answers to these questions – and making a rapid attribution – may be even more important than understanding exactly what happened. This is because the terrorists may well be planning to stage additional attacks. Finding them before they can do so is therefore a matter of the greatest urgency.
Even if no attack has taken place, being able to quickly locate the origin of even the smallest traces of radioactive material can lead to a potential terrorist or the source of a leak – before a serious incident can occur.
To meet this challenge, we need to bring together specialists from both nuclear science and forensic science, extending forensic skills into the field of nuclear and radiological threats.