Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist
Viewers of television cop shows like “CSI” or its many imitators are familiar with the idea of how forensics can be used to track down a culprit. If you watch and listen closely, you will notice that the detectives often refer to a national collection of crime scene DNA “fingerprints” held on file in a US federal database called CODIS, which helps to narrow down suspects. For example, after DNA has been picked up from a crime scene, it is entered into the system, and software then scans the voluminous database for a match to known previous offenders.
The benefits of such a system in helping to narrow down and identify a list of likely suspects are obvious.
A similar, if less well-known, system has been slowly emerging in nations across the world that could aid in identifying the origin, processing history, and intended use of nuclear materials lost, missing, stolen, or smuggled—a status technically known as “out of regulatory control.” This approach involves the development of a national nuclear forensics library, which uses the identifying characteristics of nuclear materials—their individual “DNA,” if you will—to aid nuclear security investigators. Though this capability has existed in the United States for some years now, it is only now starting to really catch on elsewhere.