Oct 10, 2007

US Can't Quickly ID Nuclear Material


WASHINGTON (AP) — If terrorists use nuclear weapons to attack the U.S., Americans immediately would want to know who is responsible. But the nation is ill equipped now to quickly track down the make and origin of nuclear materials.

It could take months to analyze and identify nuclear material, officials said Wednesday — too long in today's threat environment.

Security officials say a nuclear attack by terrorists is the No. 1 threat facing the U.S., and one key to preventing such a strike is to define the nature and source of a nuclear device.

"I think the jury is out in terms of how fast we're ever going to be able to do this," said Vayl Oxford, the Homeland Security Department's top counterproliferation official.

In the past year, the government has paid greater attention to the importance of nuclear forensics, a subject not previously given high priority, Oxford said.

Oxford and other nuclear experts in the government testified before a House subcommittee about how the departments of Energy, Homeland Security, State and Justice, as well as national laboratories, are working on the issue.

Reaching agreements with other countries to share sensitive information about their nuclear materials is a priority, said Steven Aoki, a counterterrorism official at the Energy Department.

Congress is considering a bill that would ask the president for agreements with other countries to share information on the makings of their nuclear materials. Maintaining a database with this information would help identify nuclear material before or after an attack and serve as a deterrent to nations that continue to produce these weapons.

"Highly capable forensics and attribution would enable this nation to stop follow-on attacks and serve to deter states that may assist nuclear terrorists," said Michael K. Evenson, associate director for operations at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

While the Bush administration and lawmakers may recognize the importance of tracing nuclear materials back to their origins, fewer people are entering the field of nuclear forensics, said Carol Burns of the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Most of the experts are older than 50 and there are few radiological chemists left who have analyzed debris from a nuclear explosion, Burns said.


Anonymous said...

That's rich. Burns has spent years siphoning resources away from forensics and into basic science.

Anonymous said...

"Security officials say a nuclear attack by terrorists is the No. 1 threat facing the U.S."

Not sure if I agree. A nuke attack would result in the most harm, but is of much lower probability than a well orchestrated chemical or bio attack from terrorists. Anthrax, in particular, could be sprayed by plane over a large city and would make the place uninhabitable for some time. Just the panic from such an attack would be extremely disruptive. We need to apply much more effort in deploying a layered system of chem/bio sensors in our largest metro areas and do a more complete job of tracking and monitoring the private aviation community.

Anonymous said...

I agree 11:24, although I'm more afraid of getting killed by a drunk driver in NM.

On the other hand, whether it is the No. 1 threat or not, the fact is that terrorists have apparently succeeded in making officials believe it is the No. 1 threat. That means that large amounts of financial and human resources will be allocated to deal with it. I see smart terrorists waging a campaign against the US which forces it to expend large amounts of human and financial resources to plan for, or counter, real and imagined threats. This type of campaign forces the US to reprioritize its resources, which takes them away from other pressing issues facing the country.

Anonymous said...

If you think "New Mexico" drunk drivers are more dangerous that the drunk drivers from your neck of the woods, please do everyone a big favor and go back to wherever it is you came from. There'd be one less reason for New Mexicans to drink with morons like you gone.

Anonymous said...

They are not more dangerous, they are more numerous.

Anonymous said...

"That's rich. Burns has spent years siphoning resources away from forensics and into basic science."

You 8:37 PM are an ignorant asshole. Burns has nver siphoned away resources from forensics into basic science. She had OBES funding for over a decade and hired numerous postdocs over the years that got fellowships and that is how she did world-class research that helped LANL, which is why she got nominated and promoted to Lab Fellow.

Let me guess you are just a tad bit jealous - you didn't accomplish as much as Burns and so you feel the need to discredit her because your pee-pee is too small?

Anonymous said...

Burns is a fellow?

How many publications does she have, and how many were listed on her fellow nomination list?

Pinky and The Brain said...

I think it was 60.

Anonymous said...

10/11/07 9:23 PM - Go and do a search and report back to us.

Anonymous said...

9:23 PM is clearly Neu. Nobody should entertain her trolling. She hates Burns and has made it publicly known that she wants Burns gone from LANL. What kind of AD goes around and does one-on-ones in an effort to convince a GL's (Burns') group to turn against her?

Anonymous said...

OK, you people (8:37 PM, 9:23 PM, and 9:36 PM) are just disgusting. People around the world totally respect Burns and at the time of her nomination, she had over 80 publications with over 1200 citations - and get this - in PEER-REVIEWED journals and not a single PNAS free-bee. By the way, these numbers have only increase since her appointment, so STFU unless you have done better.

Anonymous said...

PNAS is a very prestiguous. On the H-index it is ranked 4!

Anonymous said...

Carol and Mike (Burns) are both clearly class acts, smart, capable, and recognized by their peers. No question.

Anonymous said...

"Burns is a fellow?"

Yes, 9:23 PM, and guess what? She doesn't wear it on her sleeve like many other whiney butts who happen to be "Lab Fellows" and do absolutely nothing for LANL ... except whine. Burns on the other hand is out in DC trying to get more funds for LANL and trying to put LANL in a good light with the House of Reps. Go figure! And you sit there and insult her as an anonymous jerk.

Terry Wallace - is that you?

Anonymous said...

I saw the live broadcast - very unimpressive. Why give LNAL/LANS money?

Anonymous said...

10/10/07 8:37 PM, you are off your rocker.

Anonymous said...

PNAS is indeed prestigious for the bio/medical sciences, and is heavy on peer-reviewed content in "hot" bio fields. As Hirsch himself noted when he proposed the H-index, publications in the life sciences tend to draw higher citation rates overall than the physical sciences.

Outside the life sciences, PNAS seems to mostly exist as a dumping ground for research that NAS members don't want to pass through standard peer review--as evidenced by the percentage of these papers that are "contributed by" an NAS member. Chemistry papers often seem to get more visibility when published in a "lower ranked" chemistry journal.

A couple of local examples of papers that were touted as highly significant or influential at their time of publication in high-prestige journals, but that have gone virtually un-noticed by the chemistry community are My Hang Huynh's two "green primaries" papers in PNAS (only one citation since 2005, a self-cite) and Jim Boncella's "uranium trans imido" paper in Science (five citations since 2005, two of them self-cites).

One can't help but wonder how much better these would have fared if they were published in JACS.