U.S. Facing Shortage of Nuclear Scientists (Rep. Bennie Thompson)

To fortify the nation’s nuclear facilities and strengthen national security as a whole, we must recruit and train more nuclear forensic scientists.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) echoed this sentiment in a recent report entitled Nuclear Forensics: Comprehensive Interagency Plan Needed to Address Human Capital Issues. Validating House conviction, the GAO advised that success in this endeavor requires recruiting and better educating the nation’s scientists in nuclear forensics.

“The potential consequences of a terrorist attack using a nuclear or radiological device are so severe that the U.S. government must recognize the seriousness of these threats and take appropriate actions to counter or reduce them,” the GAO said.

Between 1993 and 2007, there were 1,340 confirmed incidents of illicit trafficking and unauthorized activities involving nuclear and radiological materials worldwide, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Of these reported incidents, 18 involved nuclear material capable of being used to produce a nuclear weapon.

These aggressive numbers illustrate the importance of securing a “comprehensive and responsive” nuclear forensics competency to discourage other countries from providing nuclear materials to terrorists, according to the GAO.

Additionally, sophisticated nuclear forensics can assist in identifying the nature of a nuclear or radiological device, such as design, materials used in its construction, materials’ source, as well as attributing an event to specific perpetrators.

The Education Sub-Panel estimated that the NTNF program needs about 35 new nuclear forensics scientists over the next 10 years just to replace those expected to retire. Without congressional action, NTNFC officials expect a shortage of Ph.D. radiochemists under any set of future circumstances.

To remedy this problem, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D - CA) introduced the Nuclear Forensics and Attribution Act, which my Committee acted on for the past two Congresses. The bill combats the nation’s increasing shortage of Ph.D. level scientists by creating scholarships and post-doctoral positions for scientists in radiochemistry and other relevant fields. Additionally, it authorizes the National Technical Nuclear Forensics Center. The bill passed the House in March, and movement to pass the bill in the Senate will ultimately tighten national security across the board.