US DHS launches new nuclear forensics signature discovery capability


The US Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO), along with its partners at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), has launched new nuclear forensics signature discovery capability that will help trace origins of plutonium.

The new Plutonium Processing Signatures Discovery capability is expected to improve DNDO's ability to trace the origin of plutonium.

This capability is referred to as a result of a four-year effort and it represents a significant technological advancement in nuclear forensics, which involves determining the origin of illicit or smuggled radioactive material.

Besides identifying where the radioactive material came from, the new capability will also help in predicting forensic signatures of plutonium from a given process without having actual samples of those materials.

PNNL director Dr Steven Ashby said: “The development of the Plutonium Processing Signatures Discovery capability is four years in the making and the result of a great partnership and close collaboration between PNNL, DNDO, and the nuclear forensics community.”

In the case of a nuclear weapon detonation, knowing the origin of radioactive material can help investigators determine who is responsible.

Plutonium can be processed in different ways. These varied processes can produce slightly different characteristics in plutonium, such as the colour and density.