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International Nuclear Risk Analysis

International Nuclear Risk Analysis

Systems Approach for Assessing the International Nuclear Threat

Nuclear terrorism has been identified as one of the top threats to the US and, as such, is a major focus area within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). During the past summer, a new office was created within the DHS to create a focal point for establishing a national policy to increase the detection probability for nuclear-related threats. This new office, the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO), is tasked with taking a systems perspective in understanding and responding to nuclear terrorism to better assign priorities in using US resources. The DNDO has expanded its original risk-based model from just outside the borders of the US to include a broader international perspective. Los Alamos National Laboratory has been tasked with the job of understanding and defining the international threat for the DNDO risk analyses.

To complete this task, personnel from D and N divisions have teamed to assess nuclear materials, nuclear facilities, safeguards, radiation detectors, and nuclear diversions to understand best what historically has presented the greatest probability for material diversions and what may represent the greatest probability in the future. These results are then provided to the D-Division Logic-Evolved Decision analysis team and incorporated into an end-to-end risk model. The risk model can be used to estimate relative risk to the US of the detonation of a nuclear device, as well as determine areas for greatest risk reduction. This approach has been especially useful in shaping our understanding and model of illicit trading in nuclear materials and the relationship with possible terrorist organizations. It also provides a unique opportunity to understand the relationship of technology (i.e., radiation detectors and specific technology limitations to the types and quantities of materials that are most likely to be diverted and made available to a terrorist organization).

In addition, the study provides support for current hardware deployment strategies and helps define what technologies are most important for future development and deployment. D-5 is uniquely qualified to provide this support to the DHS DNDO based on a combined expertise in nuclear reactors, materials, safeguards and diversions, and a systems approach to gathering and understanding a broad set of information and data.

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