Washington, Feb 18: A group of 12 scientists with extensive nuclear expertise, headed by a Stanford physicist, is urging an international push to improve the science of nuclear forensics.
According to Michael May, the Stanford physicist who's leading the group, the need for finding nuclear forensic scientists is important because of the increasing threat of terrorist attacks. The group says that there is an urgent need for more nuclear detectives, armed with science PhDs and instilled with the instincts of an investigator. Those detectives will need training, advanced equipment and stronger ties to intelligence agencies, political leaders and law enforcement.
The remnants of an atomic explosion carry a host of clues, even at the microscopic level, including crystal structures and impurities.
Uranium, for example, varies in isotopic composition and impurities according to where it was mined and how it was processed. ith the right mobile equipment, nuclear detectives could sift through the debris and the radioactive cloud of a nuclear attack and quickly glean crucial information.
Using radiochemistry techniques and access to proposed international databases that include actual samples of uranium and plutonium from around the world, the nuclear investigators might be able to tell the world where the bomb fuel came from, or at least rule out some suspects.
"These clues would not be the equivalent of fingerprints or DNA, but would in most cases allow officials to at least rule out or in broad classes of possible sources," said May.
In their report, the scientists recommend that atomic sleuthing be applied also to radioactive materials seized by law enforcement agencies or border guards.
"Tracking the substances back to their source might prevent or deter attacks," said May. "Nuclear forensics can make a difference," he added.