Reactive Not Proactive: Explosive Identification Taggant History and Introduction of the Nuclear Barcode Taggant Model


Regulations governing explosives have often included requirements to provide information about the manufacturer, type, and batch of a commercially produced explosive. The first method of encoding information about an explosive was simply writing desired information on the explosive's packaging. Marking explosives in this way can be considered the first identification taggant. Identification taggants that encode information have evolved over the course of over 100 years in the United States. Identification taggants are particularly useful as they allow explosives to be tracked back to the manufacturer and purchaser. Correlations can be seen in the evolutional advances in identification taggants and events (wars and terrorist activities) that lead to regulations governing explosives. The information presented in this paper walks through the evolution of identification taggants, since 1917, and identifies the corresponding event that led to increased regulations governing explosives. The paper illustrates that the efforts in identification taggants have been primarily reactionary and highlights the need for a more proactive approach in taggant research and implementation. Understanding the previously developed identification taggants has led to successive generations of taggant candidates, including a modern candidate known as the Nuclear Barcode. The nuclear barcode focuses on allowing identification taggant to survive the detonation process intact, prevent counterfeiting or obscuration, enhance forensic detection of explosives, as well as providing a sufficiently large number of potential codes to enable labeling individual batches of product. The nuclear barcode is designed to accomplish these goals inexpensively while also not affecting the properties or sensitivity of the tagged explosive.


Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Science

Second Department

Mining Engineering

Keywords and Phrases

Bar codes; Detonation; Encoding (symbols); Error detection; Manufacture; Neutron activation analysis; Encoding informations; Forensic detection; Pro-active approach; Taggants; Terrorist activities; Explosives detection

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)


Document Type

Article - Journal

Document Version


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© 2019 Wiley-VCH, All rights reserved.

Publication Date

Apr 2019