In DepthNuclear Forensics

Test blasts simulate a nuclear attack on a port

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Science  03 Mar 2017:
Vol. 355, Issue 6328, pp. 897
DOI: 10.1126/science.355.6328.897

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Summary

At a time when a nuclear bomb smuggled by terrorists is as big a concern as one from a foreign power, delivered by missile or airplane, an attack at a port is likely scenario. But nuclear forensic specialists, who rely largely on nuclear test data collected years ago in western deserts, lack a clear picture of how energy from a detonation would propagate in the highly saturated geology of many U.S. port cities. To remedy that, the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency last October quietly staged Humming Terrapin: a 2-week test series at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland that detonated nearly 2 metric tons of conventional explosives to simulate nuclear blast effects in shallow water. The team is now sifting the data and building models that would allow forensic experts—if the unimaginable were to occur—to decipher the bomb's design and perhaps determine who was behind the blast.