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US trains nuclear detectives to trace 'loose' nukes

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But just as important, it is designed to attract a fresh crop of scientists to the field, in recognition of a looming shortage of such expertise as current scientists near retirement. Scholarships for undergrads, fellowships for PhD candidates, and research awards to professors teaching in relevant fields are the government’s incentives.

In return for the PhD fellowships, graduates must work two years at a national lab or at other federal agencies that help investigate nuclear terrorism or illegal trafficking.

Federal agencies already were beefing up their ability to trace radioactive materials to their sources – either samples intercepted during an investigation or, in the worst case, residue collected after a “dirty” bomb or nuclear device detonates. Still, the new law gives these efforts a more formal status, something that is “gratifying” to William Daitch, head of the Department of Homeland Security’s National Technical Nuclear Forensics Center (NTNFC) in Washington.

Politicians from former Vice President Dick Cheney to President Obama have recently identified nuclear terrorism as America’s most serious security threat. A key reason for their concern: a steady drumbeat of attempted or actual incidents of nuclear-materials trafficking.

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