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A large radiation detector scans containerized cargo entering a seaport.

The Nuclear Smuggling Detection and Deterrence (NSDD) program is a key component of NNSA’s core mission to reduce nuclear threats.

The program, part of NNSA’s Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation, provides partners tools and training to deter, detect, and investigate smuggling of nuclear and radiological materials. Its main responsibility is to work cooperatively with international partners to build their capacity to prevent the illicit movement of materials that might eventually reach the United States. NSDD develops joint plans with partners to prevent nuclear terrorism and provides tools to build sustainable nuclear and radiological detection capabilities internationally.

To date, NSDD has worked with more than 100 partner agencies in 65 countries, including border guards, customs services, law enforcement, intelligence, and other local partners.

The program provides technical advice, equipment, and training at strategic borders, airports, and seaports, as well as at internal locations that are equipped with radiation detection systems to strengthen their national security mission.

Because the possibility of smuggling increases in areas of instability and conflict, NSDD often faces security constraints and other challenges. Practical considerations and customized approaches drive the program’s efforts to work with partners in these regions. Recently, NSDD supported Ukraine, Afghanistan, and Iraq by providing flexible detection tools to help secure their territories, designed to meet the geographic, security, and other challenges of each location.

The threat posed by smuggled nuclear and radiological materials is global. NSDD’s close relationships with its partners allows for quick responses to emerging threats and provides insight into detection operations overseas. Those relationships also provide visibility on potential challenges where partners may need additional help.

NSDD furthers U.S. diplomatic goals and strengthens global security. Detecting and deterring nuclear and radiological materials as close as possible to the original source – and as far away from the United States as possible – increases the likelihood of successfully preventing nuclear terrorism.

Police using a handheld device to inspect a vehicle for radiation.

Putting the finishing touches on radiation portal monitors and cameras at an official border checkpoint.

Operation Backpack organizers Karelyn Baker, left, and Rachel Sowell, right, talk to Sandia California Vice President Marianne Walck, center, about this year’s collection of backpacks filled with school supplies that were donated by Sandia California employees.

For the third year in a row, Sandia National Laboratories California has exceeded expectations by collecting 65 backpacks filled with school supplies for children of local military families, topping last year’s record of 48 backpacks. The backpacks were delivered to U.S. Army Reserves Garrison Camp Parks, in Dublin, California, and Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California.

Operation Backpack was founded as a way for the Sandia to thank military families for their sacrifice in service to the nation. The back-to-school season can be a stressful and costly time for any family, but can be especially trying for military families with a deployed family member or single-earner household.

By providing school supplies, the Operation Backpack planning committee hopes to alleviate the stress and let military families know that they are supported by the Sandia/California community.

Learn about the electromagnetic spectrum through the science and technology used within the Nuclear Security Enterprise.


You might see an NNSA helicopter in your city supporting national security by conducting radiation assessments in preparation for large events like the national party conventions, the Boston Marathon, and the Super Bowl.

OST vehicle

NNSA’s Office of Secure Transportation is responsible for the safe and secure transport in the United States of special nuclear materials, which are transported in secure tractor-trailers and escorted by Federal Agents in escort vehicles to provide security and incident response in the event of emergencies.


NNSA team members throughout the enterprise volunteer and engage students in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) educational outreach. One program, hosted earlier this year, trained NNSA headquarters team members to get kids excited for STEM by giving away tiny microscopes.


NNSA’s laboratories buzz with activity in the health sciences: Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories helped uncover the viral mechanisms of infection by creating screening libraries based on special genome-editing technology.


NNSA’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is developing a “human-on-a-chip,” a miniature external replication of the human body, integrating biology and engineering with a combination of microfluidics and multi-electrode arrays.


From a brain-inspired supercomputer for physics simulations to materials science from the structure of cow eyes, NNSA’s laboratories are adept at linking biology with technology to shed light on the human brain.


The National Ignition Facility’s Advanced Radiographic Capability is the world’s highest-energy short-pulse laser, and takes high resolution X-ray images at very high speeds and brightness under experimental conditions – “tiny movies” – that are relevant to understanding the operation of modern nuclear weapons.

Small feature fabrication 3D printer

An award-winning 3D-printing device developed by NNSA’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory enabled the rapid printing of fine details over large areas, unlike any 3D-printing capability before.

Carbon nanotube

NNSA’s national laboratories apply tiny science to do all kinds of marvelous things, including making nanotubes more than 50,000 times thinner than a human hair to cheaply and quickly remove salt from water and pollution from the air.

Plutonium atom

NNSA’s Los Alamos National Laboratory has a special facility for processing plutonium to support a wide range of national security programs including stockpile stewardship, nuclear materials stabilization, materials disposition, nuclear forensics, nuclear counter-terrorism, and nuclear energy.

Heavy water molecule

When deuterium, a non-radioactive isotope of tritium with a neutron in the atom in addition to the proton and electron, mixes with water you get “heavy water.” NNSA has been recognized for its commitment to serving the nation’s security interests and protecting the environment in its secure storage and inventory accountability of heavy water.

 Physicist Jim Bailey inspects a wire array at Sandia’s Z machine that will heat foam to roughly 4 million degrees until it emits a burst of X-rays that heats a foil target to the interior conditions of the sun.

By testing bits of iron at the temperature of the sun, physicist Jim Bailey at NNSA’s Sandia National Laboratories and his team produced data to improve astrophysicists’ models of behavior of stars. For his work, Bailey will receive the American Physical Society John Dawson Award. The award annually recognizes excellence in plasma physics research.

Bailey used Sandia’s Z machine, one of the world’s pre-eminent scientific instruments, to conduct the experiments that produced the award-winning new research. Sandia’s Z machine was developed to help NNSA ensure the reliability and safety the nuclear stockpile by allowing scientists to study materials under extreme conditions. Bailey subjected iron to these extreme conditions to discover it can absorb much more X-ray radiation near the edge of the sun’s radiative zone than previously thought.

Not only will the new data will help improve theoreticians’ models of star behavior, they demonstrate to the stellar and high-energy density physics communities how pulsed power is becoming increasingly important as an experimental platform to study laboratory astrophysics.

The award is named for John Dawson, who realized computers could model behavior that had previously only been studied in laboratory experiments. Simulation has also become increasingly important to NNSA’s mission set in the absence of underground explosive testing.

Bailey will receive the award at the APS Division of Plasma Physics meeting in November, in San Jose, California. Learn more about Bailey’s work in extreme physics, and read NNSA’s annual stockpile stewardship report.