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Group led by Stanford physicist says there's an urgent need for nuclear detectives
Date:2/16/2008

A terrorist nuclear explosion devastates Manhattan, but no group takes credit. The pressure on the U.S. president to retaliate is intense. Acting on sketchy information, the president orders an attack, but it turns out to be the wrong terrorists, in the wrong country. Things go downhill from there.

To avoid that and other nightmare scenarios, a group of 12 scientists with extensive nuclear expertise, headed by Stanford physicist Michael May, is urging an international push to improve the science of nuclear forensics.

May is a research professor emeritus and former co-director the Center for International Security and Cooperation. He also is the former director of the U.S. nuclear weapons design laboratory in Livermore, Calif. Other members have experience in nuclear intelligence and defense research. One member, Jay Davis, was a United Nations inspector in Iraq.

They say there is an urgent need for more nuclear detectives, armed with science PhDs and instilled with the instincts of an investigator. And those detectives will need training, advanced equipment and stronger ties to intelligence agencies, political leaders and law enforcement.

With the right mobile equipment, nuclear detectives could sift through the debris and the radioactive cloud of an attack in this country or elsewhere and quickly glean crucial information, the scientists argue in a 60-page report to be discussed Feb. 16 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston.

The report, Nuclear Forensics: Role, State of the Art, Program Needs, was written by a joint working group of the AAAS and the American Physical Society.

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 presidentand the worldwhere the bomb fuel came from, or at least rule
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Contact: Dan Stober
dstober@stanford.edu
650-721-6965
Stanford University
Source:Eurekalert

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