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US Ability To Identify Source of Nuclear Weapons Decays 139

Posted by Soulskill
from the it-was-the-one-armed-terrist dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "The NY Times covers a report released by the National Research Council, which says the ability of the US to identify the source of a nuclear weapon used in a terrorist attack is fragile and eroding. The goals of the highly specialized detective work, known as nuclear attribution, is to clarify options for retaliation and to deter terrorists by letting them know that nuclear devices have fingerprints that atomic specialists can find and trace. 'Although US nuclear forensics capabilities are substantial and can be improved, right now they are fragile, under-resourced and, in some respects, deteriorating,' the report warns. 'Without strong leadership, careful planning and additional funds, these capabilities will decline.' The report calls on the federal government to take steps to strengthen its forensic capabilities and argues for the necessity of better planning, more robust budgets, clearer lines of authority and more realistic exercises."
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US Ability To Identify Source of Nuclear Weapons Decays

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 30, 2010 @10:25PM (#33092394)
    If a nuke goes off in a US city, we have an excuse for stalling on identifying who's responsible while politicians have a knee-jerk reaction and send US soldiers (or missiles, or UAV's) off on another enormously profitable [wikipedia.org] foreign adventure. And if it turns out they're wrong, we can blame it on anonymous technicians with "decaying skills".
    • by Tisha_AH (600987)

      Oh, after a weapon is "used" there is a entire recipe of isotope signatures that can yield all sorts of information about the weapon design, source of the pit, yield, efficiency, etc... We got very good at that back in the 50's and 60's.

      • by slick7 (1703596)

        Oh, after a weapon is "used" there is a entire recipe of isotope signatures that can yield all sorts of information about the weapon design, source of the pit, yield, efficiency, etc... We got very good at that back in the 50's and 60's.

        What is really being said is that all the fissile material has decayed to such an extent that it all points to the U.S.; where's your technology now?

    • Single-mindedness (Score:4, Insightful)

      by causality (777677) on Friday July 30, 2010 @10:48PM (#33092554)

      If a nuke goes off in a US city, we have an excuse for stalling on identifying who's responsible while politicians have a knee-jerk reaction and send US soldiers (or missiles, or UAV's) off on another enormously profitable [wikipedia.org] foreign adventure. And if it turns out they're wrong, we can blame it on anonymous technicians with "decaying skills".

      I wonder if you realize how right you are about the way the USA does things. From the summary:

      Although US nuclear forensics capabilities are substantial and can be improved, right now they are fragile, under-resourced and, in some respects, deteriorating,' the report warns.

      You know what else is fragile, under-resourced, and in many respects deteriorating? Our willingness to examine the connection between meddling in the affairs of soverign nations and their more radical factions' desire to go to extremes in order to attack us.

      For those who feel inclined to speak about this without having done any research (like that stops anyone these days), I'll sum it up briefly. The USA has a habit of using its intelligence services to overthrow democratically elected officials in foreign countries and usually replaces them with dictators more favorable to its economic interests. Iran during the 1950s is a good example, though only one of many. Do a little research and it is easy enough to come up with several examples of this behavior.

      Does anyone plan to argue that this does not constitute provocation in the eyes of those who suffer because of this practice? Yes, the way they retaliate is inhuman and reprehensible, particularly when they go after civilians. I fully agree with that. What I reject is the notion that "they hate us because of our freedoms". I think it's more like, they hate us because they want to be left alone. If that's the case, and if our goal is to end this sort of terrorism, our first responsibility is to end the practices of ours that encourage it. Then we are in a better position to go after the people who persist and come up with better ways to deter them.

      If anyone wants a list that they can start researching, I found a decent one here [wordpress.com]. It's just a list to help you get started. If you want to be informed on this subject you will have to do your own research. If you take the time to do that, however, what will amaze you is how little retaliation there has been.

      • by afabbro (33948)

        If anyone wants a list that they can start researching, I found a decent one here [wordpress.com]. It's just a list to help you get started.

        I think you need to wipe the foam off your chin and relax a little. That silly list includes places like "Afghanistan in the 1980s". Why not list Nazi Germany in the 1930s? And why isn't the USSR in the 1980s listed? If you think the US is evil for trying to get rid of, say, the East German Communist government or the Afghanistan Soviet puppet state, you are transridiculous.

        Personally, I root for the home team regardless. It's a Hobbesian war of all vs. all, not some United Federation of Planets, kid.

        • by slick7 (1703596)

          Personally, I root for the home team regardless. It's a Hobbesian war of all vs. all, not some United Federation of Planets, kid.

          Once the thermonuclear device goes prompt critical, all bets are off.

        • If you think the US is evil for trying to get rid of, say, the East German Communist government or the Afghanistan Soviet puppet state, you are transridiculous.

          Not the former, but certainly the latter. Unfortunately the US did nothing significant to overthrow the former.

          The communist government of Afghanistan was far preferable to any of its Islamic fundamentalist successors.

          You are implicitly arguing funding and training the Taliban and Al-Quaeda was the right thing to do. I disagree, and think it was both stupid and evil.

        • by ultranova (717540)

          Personally, I root for the home team regardless. It's a Hobbesian war of all vs. all, not some United Federation of Planets, kid.

          Hobbes mainly concerned himself with the question of how to avoid things from coming to that, since it leads to lives that are "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short". This, of course, doesn't stop malicious imbeciles from referencing him in vain attempts to justify contributing to the problem.

          And if it's really all vs. all, then there's no "home team", now is there?

      • I know it's really popular to blame US meddling for terrorism, and to think that if we just don't meddle, the problem will go away, but that's really not the case. In the first place, the US has probably meddled more in Latin America than in the Middle East, and yet they haven't decided to send terrorist bombers over. A lot of Latin Americans even like the US for whatever reason (it's not like our meddling ways have been particularly worse than their own leaders in general, Noriega wasn't really a guy you
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by the_womble (580291)

          Get this: Osama Bin Laden hates music. He considers it a tool of the devil.

          Which just emphasises how insane the US policy of meddling in terrorism by funding and training him, and others of the same type, actually was.

          they want us to stop supporting the Saudi government

          One of the reasons Saudi Arabia produces so many fundamentalists, especially rich fundamentalists who support global terrorism, is that it is a fundamentalist state in the first place. Do you really think that actively supporting the status quo in the country that is the major source of funding for Islamic fundamentalism is going to have any result other than providi

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by phantomfive (622387)

            On the other hand its fine for Palestine to disappear, its humane for a Palestinian man to be convicted for rape because he had pretended to be Jewish, its OK to steal people's homes.

            Who said that is ok? Come on, you are reading things that no one said. Come on, improve your reading comprehension.

            Which just emphasises how insane the US policy of meddling in terrorism by funding and training him, and others of the same type, actually was.

            Or maybe it emphasizes that we shouldn't have abandoned Afghanistan after kicking the oppressive Russian government out, and should have stayed around to build schools and not let the bad guys take over?

            • by Zumbs (1241138)

              Or maybe it emphasizes that we shouldn't have abandoned Afghanistan after kicking the oppressive Russian government out, and should have stayed around to build schools and not let the bad guys take over?

              Some time back, I watched an episode of 60 minutes on Afghanistan (I think this was before 9-11-2001), where they interviewed some of the CIA operatives responsible for helping to throw Russia out of Afghanistan in the 1980s. The operatives said that when they asked if they should help the groups most likely to win or the groups that are closer to US sensibilities, they were told that defeating the Russian invasion were the most important. Which were a direct order to help the fundamentalist groups as they

        • by dbIII (701233)
          You are going way off on a tangent there - we can't make Bin Laden a better person we can only make ourselves better people.
          We've had a variety of problems with unaccountable spooks often acting contrary to US policy and we could have less of those problems in the future if some changes are made.
          If we threaten Israel with suspending military aid they will not give in to our demands no matter how tame because they will not disappear without US help. The US aid is really just icing on the cake that lets them
      • The USA has a habit of using its intelligence services to overthrow democratically elected officials in foreign countries and usually replaces them with dictators more favorable to its economic interests. Iran during the 1950s is a good example, though only one of many.

        When the only example you cite is a well known one from sixty years ago... all that does is make you look like a loon.

        If anyone wants a list that they can start researching, I found a decent one here. It's just a list to help you get

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          If you stop blathering for a minute, and actually "do the research", you'll find pictures of US Presidents, Secretaries of State and Defense, shaking hands, giving supporting speeches, and giving foreign aid to several dozen blooodthirsty dictators which enslaved, imprisoned, or killed about 80 million of their own people.

          Here's a short list:

          Bao Dai
          Ngo Dinh Diem
          Chiang Kai-shek
          Park Chung Hee
          Chun Doo Hwan
          Laurent Kabila
          Idi Amin
          General Sani Abacha
          Francisco Franco
          General Humberto Castelo Branco
          Marco Vinicio Cer

        • When the only example you cite is a well known one from sixty years ago... all that does is make you look like a loon.

          he posted a link to a list of 50.


          Doubly so when it lists "Iraq 1991" as an attempt to replace a democratically elected government

          you didn't actually read the linked page. it didn't say every one on the list was democratic. it said most were. the rest of your argument is based on this faulty understanding.

          and you call him a 'loon'. yikes.

          • by causality (777677)

            When the only example you cite is a well known one from sixty years ago... all that does is make you look like a loon.

            he posted a link to a list of 50.

            Doubly so when it lists "Iraq 1991" as an attempt to replace a democratically elected government

            you didn't actually read the linked page. it didn't say every one on the list was democratic. it said most were. the rest of your argument is based on this faulty understanding.

            and you call him a 'loon'. yikes.

            When you face someone with a truth that they'd rather not acknowledge they will often blame you rather than themselves for not having the courage and love of truth that it takes to handle this gracefully. That's the really funny thing about human beings and their idiosyncracies, maladaptive beliefs, and character faults: they defend them because they are so thoroughly identified with them. That's why so many people are impervious to facts that contradict their worldview. It's why some of them will call y

        • by Y-Crate (540566)

          When the only example you cite is a well known one from sixty years ago... all that does is make you look like a loon.

          Salvador Allende was overthrown on September 11th, 1973. 60 Minutes did a report on it [cbsnews.com]. I clearly remember watching it air for the first time. On Sunday, September 9th, 2001.

        • When the only example you cite is a well known one from sixty years ago... all that does is make you look like a loon.

          Actually, the Iran example from sixty years ago is a very good one, because it can't be called a conspiracy theory anymore (since it's been declassified after the mandatory 50 years waiting period), and yet it almost exactly parallels the reasons for the failed coups against President Hugo Chavez on April 11th 2001 (in Venezuela), under the young President George W Bush. In Iran, it was the nationalization of the oil fields that spurred the US/UK sponsored coups over there.

          In the case of Venezuela, Hugo C

    • re War Profiteering - Absolutely correct. Also see its superset, Disaster Capitalism [wikipedia.org], which lays out the theory of (aside of the obvious 9/11 opportunism and the subsequent war profiteering in Iraq) why drug companies are making so much money off bogus disease scares du jour like swine flu and now whooping cough, as well as Tsunami and Hurricane destruction sites and even the gulf oil spill where rich yacht owners [thedailybeast.com] were being paid thousands while the doomed fishermen shat bricks.

      I doubt that will happen a
      • by rinoid (451982)

        More likely we'd say its from Pakistan and go all Iraq on their ass, especially in light of the recent embarrassing Wikileaks about ISI's double-crossing us.

        It didn't take reading many post Soviet Afgahnistam books to learn out that the ISI has always been interested in double crossing anyone they work with.

      • by mpe (36238)
        More likely we'd say its from Pakistan and go all Iraq on their ass, especially in light of the recent embarrassing Wikileaks about ISI's double-crossing us.
        BR>I though being able to "double cross" foreign (and sometimes their own) governments was an employee requirement for all such entities. CIA, MI5/6, Mossad, ISI, FSB, ASIS, CSIC, etc, etc
    • by mlts (1038732) *

      I don't think there would be a nuking just knee-jerk unless people are SURE they know the real culprits.

      You know how many crackpots have dreams of being able to nuke country "A", make it look like country "B", and watch the two go at it and completely annihilate each other? I'm sure a lot of countries would love to see the US, China, and Russia all go at it just for spite's sake, or perhaps even make a land grab on areas that are habitable after the large firecrackers have gone off and there is little to n

      • by slick7 (1703596)

        I don't think there would be a nuking just knee-jerk unless people are SURE they know the real culprits.

        You state your position succinctly in the first three words. "I don't think". Why do you "believe" that it will be a big player war? Look at all the whack jobs out there with nukes. Pakistan, India, Israel, Flying Spaghetti Monster knows which Arab faction wants/ has/ is willing to buy a nuke of any yield, did I forget to mention that Pakistan is an Islamic state? How about Russia (proper) vs. the Chechens/ Ukraines/ any other break-away state. Putin, Rasputin what's the difference?

        I'm sure a lot of countries would love to see the US, China, and Russia all go at it

        China goes after Taiwan;

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by phantomfive (622387)
      On 9/11, I had a professor whose reaction was, "eh, it was only a matter of time." Perhaps the idea has occurred to anyone who's played Microsoft flight simulator.

      The way things are going, I kind of feel the same about a nuke going off in a US city. It's only a matter of time. I don't know how the country will respond to that, but I surely hope the person in charge does is more competent than the one in charge at 9/11 (though it is hard to imagine a person who is less competent: he went from the entire
      • by JWSmythe (446288)

        On 9/11, I had a professor whose reaction was, "eh, it was only a matter of time." Perhaps the idea has occurred to anyone who's played Microsoft flight simulator.

        Silly me, I only flew to airports, and buzzed past buildings. I guess it's that whole self preservation instinct still working strong. :) It is fun to fly cross country using nothing but a compass and ground references. That, and no risk of actually crashing. :) I felt silly the first time, I made it all the way from LAX to TPA, and had to go

      • by Wyatt Earp (1029)

        The entire world was against the United States in a single month?

        In your mind the United States is in Afghanistan on it's own right?
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Security_Assistance_Force [wikipedia.org]

        And other countries took part in in the Invasion and counter-insurgency in Iraq
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multinational_force_in_Iraq [wikipedia.org]

        Or that the US has been involved in other theaters with other allies since 2001
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Enduring_Freedom_-_Horn_of_Africa [wikipedia.org]
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wi [wikipedia.org]

        • In how many of those countries is there popular support for backing the US?

          Fighting alongside the US was a significant contribution to Tony Blair's ejection from office, and the question in Britain now is not even "should we be in these wars?", but " whose fault is it that we got into this?".

      • On 9/11, I had a professor whose reaction was, "eh, it was only a matter of time." Perhaps the idea has occurred to anyone who's played Microsoft flight simulator.

        I doubt Bin Laden or your Professor took the idea from a computer game.

        There was a (failed) precedent. And I'm not just talking of the bomb inside the garage of the WTC. In the War of independence of Algeria against France, a dirty War which Algeria eventually won its independence, and a War of independence which had been logistically supported by the Bin Laden family themselves, a commercial passenger airplane was taken over in one of the airports in Paris.

        The hostage-takers were demanding some fuel and

        • For the sake of being pedantic, I never said that my professor or Bin Laden had gotten the idea from a computer game. I used the example to point out that the idea was fairly ubiquitous, something which your example confirms.
    • by ultranova (717540)

      If a nuke goes off in a US city, we have an excuse for stalling on identifying who's responsible while politicians have a knee-jerk reaction and send US soldiers (or missiles, or UAV's) off on another enormously profitable foreign adventure.

      Which is probably preferable to correctly identifying which nuclear power the bomb was stolen from and attacking them instead.

    • by mrmeval (662166)

      This has already been detailed in 90s fiction. It does not matter where the material comes from. It matters that it gets used. It's the same as the cry to market bullets or rifles. It does nothing for the victim, it does not catch the user or their boss.

  • I imagine that they are looking for neutron ratios and possibly gamma energy levels?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by bsDaemon (87307)

      that's old hat. it's all about subspace tachyons these days.

    • by slick7 (1703596)

      I imagine that they are looking for neutron ratios and possibly gamma energy levels?

      Silly rabbit, that's old hat.

    • Trace levels of different heavy elements is what they look for. You need a database of what the different power plants are spitting out, and what the enrichment is putting out, if any. Different fueling schedules, temperatures and different fuel make up will produce different ratios of things with respect to Pu. There would be some variation just in a single plant too as the neutron spectrum is not completely homogeneous. From that you can estimate what is in an enriched bomb material, and what will be lef
  • Huh? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jd (1658) <.imipak. .at. .yahoo.com.> on Friday July 30, 2010 @10:33PM (#33092460) Homepage Journal

    This is hardly rocket science. You get a sample from each reactor and perform an AMS* run on it. This gives you a fingerprint for that reactor. You get a sample from a nuclear weapon (pre-detonation or post-detonation) or fallout from debris (as in the case of Chernobyl) and perform an AMS* run on that.

    *You can also look for specific gamma energies.

    My A-Level computer science project could take the masses or energies and correctly infer which isotopes were present, in what ratios, and which reactor the sample likely came from. It double-checked by looking for daughter isotopes (decay products), since there are isotopes that look similar but follow different decay paths. I wrote that in less than a year in Turbo Pascal for the IBM PC.

    And the US Government is now saying that all of its nuclear labs combined can't either write their own frigging version, don't have the books I worked from, and don't have any AMS equipment to collect fresh data as needed?

    If they are that stupid and incompetent in relation to my talent and skills, when can I expect them to hand Sandia over to my care?

    Oh, they're not? Then maybe there's something seriously dodgy about their claim.

    • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by TuballoyThunder (534063) on Friday July 30, 2010 @11:22PM (#33092714)
      And please explain how alpha mass spec analysis of spent fuel from a reactor would help with a U235 based weapon. Also, please explain how you would back out the fractionation of the debris. For extra credit, you can explain how activation products can facilitate your analysis.

      Also, Sandia is not the design lab you are looking for. You are confusing them with Los Alamos and Livermore.

      I respect the fact that you have a four digit UID, but the problem is not as trivial as you make it out to be.

      • Re:Huh? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by jd (1658) <.imipak. .at. .yahoo.com.> on Saturday July 31, 2010 @03:00AM (#33093566) Homepage Journal

        Every reactor produces unique isotopes. It's an absolutely unique fingerprint. It will be present in the plutonium (unless you are suggesting that someone is going to refine plutonium to near 100%) and has been used for decades. Air monitors during the cold war would harvest particles of radioactive debris from surface testing, permitting identification of which reactor the material was from.

        Almost nobody actually makes a pure uranium bomb. Horribly inefficient stuff. You need a lot of it to do anything, which immediately makes missiles impractical. Even if you did use uranium, the impurities would give away which mine it came from. Again, that is unique.

        No, I said Sandia because they do more interesting work. Los Alamos is, frankly, dull.

        (I have a 4-digit ID, yes, but far more importantly I was taught by an expert in radio-chemistry - which is why I was able to do said A-level project - who had been working on this kind of stuff since the 70s. He had fully automated radioisotope analysis down to a fine art by 1979.)

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          However, if you are putting together a forensic program you need to be able to assess bombs made with Pu or U or both. Even if you could identify the reactor or mine that the fissile material came from, that does not tell you who built the weapon. There are many factors that a forensic capability has to account for.

          Nuclear Weapons Incident Response

          The Nuclear Weapons Incident Response (NWIR) Program serves as the United States’ primary capability for responding to and mitigating nuclear and radiol

        • by mpe (36238)
          Every reactor produces unique isotopes. It's an absolutely unique fingerprint. It will be present in the plutonium (unless you are suggesting that someone is going to refine plutonium to near 100%) and has been used for decades.

          The only obvious difficulty is likely to be getting hold of that fingerprint in the first place.

          Air monitors during the cold war would harvest particles of radioactive debris from surface testing, permitting identification of which reactor the material was from.

          On it's own this
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Caraig (186934) *

      Would part of the problem be that they suspect that there are breeder reactors for which they do not have the appropriate data?

      • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by jd (1658) <.imipak. .at. .yahoo.com.> on Saturday July 31, 2010 @03:27AM (#33093670) Homepage Journal

        They would be able to tell that a given sample was from a fast-breeder reactor, they'd also be able to tell that it was not one they'd got data for and they'd probably be able to tell which uranium mine the ore was from (there aren't many and no more are likely to be discovered at any depth we have the technology to operate at at this time). Since the fingerprint is unique, and since radioactive waste is awfully hard to get rid of subtly, it would be extremely quick and easy to find where the reactor was.

        An example of just how hard it is to hide these kinds of signatures -- the Russian who was poisoned by Polonium in London some years back. They can identify not only which reactor but which reactor vessel that Polonium came from. And that was with a very very trace sample. (As I recall, it was identified within a few hours of it being established Polonium was used.) Polonium has a half-life of 138.376 days. Since Britain closed Daresbury's 20MeV tandem accelerator, the options for doing a high-resolution run would have been limited, but they would certainly have been able to tell to within a day or two when the Polonium had been produced.

        THAT is the kind of fingerprinting that can be done. Hell, even with my A-Level project software, I was able to isolate almost every radioisotope in the Chernobyl fallout from just the gamma signatures and no AMS at all. (Every radioisotope not only has a unique mass, it also has a unique energy signature.)

        What would it take to get a sample for analyzing? Well, you get a bucket that you can open and close at both ends. You lower it into the water and take a sample. There won't be much plutonium or uranium floating near the surface, but there'll be enough even a few feet below to analyze. Back in 1978, that's how most of the research on the nuclear waste in the Irish Sea was done - with buckets, string, a dinghy and someone to keep look-out. Nothing fancier was needed and the results were staggeringly good. An actual core sample from the radioactive sludge would not have given you better results.

        The thing is, it's almost impossible for a reactor to not release enough waste for it to be (a) identified as a nuclear reactor, and (b) listed alongside its radioisotope signature. No country - USA and Russia included - has ever successfully hidden a reactor. At least, not for more than about a week. And the kit needed by a radiochemist to do any serious work is virtually nothing. At the time of Chernobyl, it was possible to take a mobile lab up to any farm in the Cumbrian hills and do studies of soil, lichen and sheep. If the US Navy can't fit such a lab into a small manned submersible or even an ROV, it's their own damn fault.

        • Not to nitpick, but the US government hides nuclear reactors all the time, in the form of Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines. However, the naval reactors on these vessels are in no way optimized for production of weapons-grade fissile material.

        • Hiding a reactor is pretty easy if the cooling loop is closed. What is not easy is hiding reprocessing.
    • ... I am sure that you can't replace the entire US nuclear forensics programme with an 18 year old with an A level in Computer Science. I'm guessing there's a few folk with PhDs and the like in their organisation who are doing more than playing darts and watching day time tv. What do you think? Is it all a con? could it be replaced by a single teenaged student?

      • by jd (1658)

        Well, duh, obviously not. And therefore the claim that the ability to fingerprint fissile material is going away (as per the original article) is highly suspect at best, blatantly false at most likely. The skills are too damn simple. This is the usual scaremongering in an effort to bolster spending for weapons programs at a time when they may well get cutbacks.

    • by Isaac-1 (233099)

      I suspect what they are saying is they need someone to collect those reference samples from certain 3rd world nuclear research programs.

    • by chiph (523845)

      I expect what they mean by "decaying" is that the people who know how to do this analysis are dead and/or retiring.

      It's not a high-demand skill, after all (thankfully).

  • by Anonymous Coward

    First. we nuke all the commies. Thirdly. we nuke all the arabs. Seconded. we go get the oil . Teh plan is ideal.

  • by Lev13than (581686) on Friday July 30, 2010 @10:54PM (#33092596) Homepage
    'Although US nuclear forensics capabilities are substantial and can be improved, right now they are fragile, under-resourced and, in some respects, deteriorating,'

    Fifteen years ago they had full capabilities, but only five years later their capacity was cut in half. Then, in 2005 they found that their capabilities were down to 25%. Today they are working at 12.5% effectiveness. At this point their capabilities are so degraded they have no idea what will be left in 2015.
    • by shiftless (410350)

      The real question is, what is the decay product and where is all that radiation being vented?

    • by slick7 (1703596)

      'Although US nuclear forensics capabilities are substantial and can be improved, right now they are fragile, under-resourced and, in some respects, deteriorating,' Fifteen years ago they had full capabilities, but only five years later their capacity was cut in half. Then, in 2005 they found that their capabilities were down to 25%. Today they are working at 12.5% effectiveness. At this point their capabilities are so degraded they have no idea what will be left in 2015.

      And who caused that, O'bama? Yeah, right.

  • I'm no physicist... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anachragnome (1008495) on Saturday July 31, 2010 @12:00AM (#33092882)

    I'm no physicist, but the first thing that came to mind--without having any idea how they actually track this stuff--is doping.

    One would think that the places that produced this stuff would automatically fingerprint it by doping the material with rare elements, stuff that can only be produced in expensive labs or the nuclear plants themselves--such as Neptunium and Protactinium. Just enough of the elements, and in proportions specific to the place of origin, to ID the source of the product.

    Whether or not this stuff would be intact and usable for identification purposes after a detonation, no idea, but it would at least allow for confirmation-of-source on materials before they are actually incorporated into a device. And, lets face it, this is the time we want to be identifying sources--not when we are taking ground-zero samples.

    • by pjt33 (739471)

      That's great if you control all the reactors. In the case of a nuclear attack on the US, I rather suspect that the source of the fissionable material would not be a US-based reactor. You'd need the IAEA to set up a register of signatures and conduct checks on all reactors to ensure that they're being applied correctly. (And that still ignores the unknown reactors, although really there's not much anyone can do about that).

    • by houghi (78078)

      And, lets face it, this is the time we want to

      What time? 3 in the afternoon or the time of terrorism? If the latter, they have already won.

  • US federal government agencies are inept when it comes to a lot of things. (No political bias intended). Take a look at recent defense acquisition programs, business and wall street regulation... The virtues of "strong leadership [and] careful planning" seem to be in short supply thoughout the system.
    • by slick7 (1703596)

      US federal government agencies are inept when it comes to a lot of things. (No political bias intended). Take a look at recent defense acquisition programs, business and wall street regulation... The virtues of "strong leadership [and] careful planning" seem to be in short supply thoughout the system.

      And who caused that, O'bama? Yeah, right.

  • by craw (6958)

    Half-life decay!

  • Or... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by matunos (1587263)

    ... we could just blame Iran for whatever and save a buttload on that nerdy nuclear forensics.

  • This is a big, fat, hairy deterrent to developing nuclear arms. "This terrorist nuke came from (spin the wheel on hated regimes du jour!) Dumfucistan! Dumfucistan, here's a million tons of conventional ordinance dropped on the head of each and every last goat-herder inside your borders and summary execution for your Prime Minister For Life and all his family! Congratulations, Dumfucistan! Meanwhile, Pakistan, we're still all good friends, right? It wasn't your rogue intelligence service that slipped Osama a

    • by slick7 (1703596)

      This is a big, fat, hairy deterrent to developing nuclear arms. "This terrorist nuke came from (spin the wheel on hated regimes du jour!) Dumfucistan! Dumfucistan, here's a million tons of conventional ordinance dropped on the head of each and every last goat-herder inside your borders and summary execution for your Prime Minister For Life and all his family! Congratulations, Dumfucistan! Meanwhile, Pakistan, we're still all good friends, right? It wasn't your rogue intelligence service that slipped Osama a nuke on the sly, right? It would be a shame if we spun the wheel and it turned up "Pakistan", right?

      Look at your history books, specifically all the regimes supported by the U.S. for the last 50 years, a great majority of them are no longer our allies, just our enemies. What does that tell you about American Foreign Policy?

  • The implication is that a large part of the deterrent is the belief that the US can determine exactly where the nuke came from, and reply in kind. By announcing that that ability is decaying, that deterrent is completely undermined.

    While obviously it's better if we can actually do what we say we can, it's the belief that we can that (theoretically) keeps people in check.

  • From unsuspecting taxpayers, and less unsuspecting lawmakers. Later are ready to spend, and sooo happy when they get so good excuses.

  • The US once had a huge nuclear weapons establishment - Oak Ridge, Los Alamos, Hanford, Sandia, Lawerence Livermore, Rocky Flats, and a other big installations, most dating from WWII. Today, the major activity at most of those sites dealing with toxic waste. Almost everyone who ever designed a working nuclear weapon is retired or dead. The US hasn't built a major power reactor in decades. Smart young people don't go into nuclear engineering or nuclear physics. There's just no demand for new work in th

  • So, you know who the perpetrators stole it from. What good does that do?

    Even if you could find the dozen or hundred people who did it and "bring them to justice," as a President vowed we would do to Osama bin Laden--even if you could subject them to capital punishment... how would that compensate for what they had done, or deter others from doing it?

    H. G. Wells wrote in 1914, in a novel called "The World Set Free," "Certainly it seems now that nothing could have been more obvious to the people of the earlie

"But this one goes to eleven." -- Nigel Tufnel

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