FYI: The AIP Bulletin of Science Policy News

Defense Bill Includes Nuclear Forensics Provision

Richard M. Jones
Number 100 - October 13, 2008  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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"A believable attribution capability may help to discourage behavior that could lead to a nuclear event," concluded a report issued earlier this year by a Joint Working Group of the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The report continued, "A forensics capability that can trace material to the originating reactor or enrichment facility could discourage state cooperation with terrorist elements and encourage better security for nuclear weapon usable materials."

About eight months after the release of this report, "Nuclear Forensics: Role, State of the Art, Program Needs," and Rep. Bill Foster's (D-IL) introduction of H.R. 5929, the Nuclear Terrorism Deterrence and Detection Act (see more), Congress passed legislation requiring the development of a nuclear forensics R&D plan. This bill, S. 3001, the FY 2009 defense authorization act, has been sent to the White House for the expected signature of President George Bush.

Section 3114, Enhancing Nuclear Forensics Capabilities, of the bill states the following under (a) Research and Development Plan for Nuclear Forensics and Attribution:

"(1) RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT.—The Secretary of Energy shall prepare and implement a research and development plan to improve nuclear forensics capabilities in the Department of Energy and at the national laboratories overseen by the Department of Energy. The plan shall focus on improving the technical capabilities required --

(A) to enable a robust and timely nuclear forensic response to a nuclear explosion or to the interdiction of nuclear material or a nuclear weapon anywhere in the world; and

(B) to develop an international database that can attribute nuclear material or a nuclear weapon to its source."

The legislation also calls for the submission of three reports. The first is due within six months of the bill's enactment and requires the Secretary of Energy to provide a report on "the contents of the research and development plan" and "any legislative changes required to implement the plan." The Secretary must submit a second report within eighteen months of the bill's enactment on "the status of implementing the plan." Finally, within ninety days of enactment, "the President shall submit to the appropriate committees of Congress a report on the involvement of senior-level executive branch leadership in nuclear terrorism preparedness exercises that include nuclear forensics analysis."

In addition to this bill language, there is a Joint Explanatory Statement from House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) that provides further insight:

"The House bill contained a provision (sec. 3113) that would establish a fellowship program for graduate students in nuclear chemistry and direct the Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to prepare and carry out a research and development plan to improve the speed and accuracy of nuclear forensics radiation measurement equipment. In addition, the provision would direct the Secretary of Energy to prepare a research and development plan to support technical forensics and attribution capabilities, including an international database on nuclear material to allow prompt attribution of material or weapons.

"The provision would also amend the report on nuclear forensics capabilities required to be submitted by section 3129(b) of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 (Public Law 110–181) to include a requirement to identify any treaty, legislative, or regulatory actions needed to establish the international database. The provision would also direct the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretary of Energy and Homeland Security, to submit a report with respect to a nuclear forensics advisory panel.

"The provision would also require a series of reports including, a report on the costs of the fellowship program; a research and development plan with the costs to implement the plan; a report on the research and development plan for technical capabilities to enhance forensics and attribution; and a report on the involvement of senior Executive Branch leadership in nuclear terrorism preparedness exercises.

"The Senate bill contained a provision (sec. 3114) that would establish a nonproliferation scholarship and fellowship program.

"The [House and Senate] agreement includes the House provision with an amendment that would direct the Secretary of Energy to establish, prepare and implement a research and development plan to improve nuclear forensics capabilities in the Department of Energy (DOE) and at the DOE national laboratories. The Secretary of Energy should ensure that the House Committee on Science and Technology receives a copy of the report.

"In addition, the amendment would amend the report on nuclear forensics capabilities required to be submitted by section 3129(b) of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 (Public Law 110–181) to include a requirement to identify any treaty, legislative, or regulatory actions needed to establish the international database.

"The amendment would also direct the President to submit a report to the appropriate congressional committees on the involvement of senior level Executive Branch leadership in nuclear terrorism exercises including nuclear forensics analysis.

"Elsewhere in the agreement there is a separate provision that would establish a scholarship and fellowship program for nonproliferation and national security."

In a previous action, President Bush signed the FY 2009 Consolidated Security, Disaster Assistance, and Continuing Appropriations Act providing flat funding for most departments and agencies through March 2009. This bill also included twelve-month funding for the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs, and military construction. The explanatory statement for the Department of Homeland Security portion of this bill, under Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) included the following:

"NATIONAL TECHNICAL NUCLEAR FORENSICS CENTER: The bill provides $16,900,000 for the National Technical Nuclear Forensics Center. Within this total, $1,000,000 has been provided for the new fellowship program. This program is funded at an introductory scale and should grow based on performance and participation. As discussed in the Senate report, DNDO shall submit a report on the National Technical Nuclear Forensics Center, its quality assurance program, the results of the National Academy of Sciences study, and steps the Center is taking to implement these recommendations."

The Department of Homeland Security established the National Technical Nuclear Forensics Center in 2006, briefly describing this action as follows: "DNDO established the National Technical Nuclear Forensics Center to collect and analyze material evidence in order to identify and ultimately prosecute those responsible for any potential act of nuclear terrorism."

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
rjones@aip.org
301-209-3095