Fact Sheet
Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation
March 28, 2012


What is nuclear detection?

Nuclear detection refers to the capability to identify and report on the presence and/or movement of nuclear or radioactive materials or devices across national borders, within the interior of a country, or in transit between countries. Detection is achieved through a combination of radiation detection technology, traditional law enforcement techniques and situational awareness of radiological and nuclear threats. While detection activities are most commonly conducted by frontline (Customs and Border Guard forces) or interior law enforcement personnel, the capability must be integrated into a national-level Nuclear Detection Architecture (NDA) to ensure a layered defense-in-depth approach as well as adequate reporting and response.

How does nuclear detection support nuclear security?

Nuclear detection is a vital component of a layered approach to nuclear security. By implementing and improving nuclear detection capabilities, nations can prevent the illicit movement of radioactive materials or weapons across their borders and within their sovereign territory. Nuclear detection also supports the responsible stewardship of nuclear energy by providing additional layers of defense beyond the traditional site security. The establishment of an effective NDA can also serve as a deterrent to terrorist groups by making nuclear terrorism too expensive and challenging to accomplish successfully.

Nuclear detection and the Nuclear Security Summit 2012

Since the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit, the United States has continued to play a critical role in developing, testing and characterizing new technologies in the field of nuclear detection. Within the context of the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism and the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.S. has also led efforts to collaboratively develop international guidelines and best practices on developing nuclear security detection architecture strategies as well as guidance on the planning, organization and operational characteristics associated with effectively implementing nuclear detection architectures and supporting capabilities. Bilateral engagements between the U.S. and international partners have also facilitated the sharing of information and best practices in the areas of technology development, planning, and operational protocols.

Who in the U.S. Government (USG) is responsible for nuclear detection?

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) leads the implementation of the domestic NDA and coordinates the development of the Global Nuclear Detection Architecture (GNDA) with other USG assistance providers as well as the international community. However, the USG takes a whole-of-government approach to implementing its national-level NDA and assisting international partners in developing detection capabilities. In addition to DHS, domestic and international nuclear detection efforts are conducted by the Departments of Defense, Energy, Justice and State.

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