Neutrino detectors could be used to spot nuclear thieves

Neutrino detectors could be used to spot nuclear thieves


Being able to place a detector above the ground also helps if you want to convince a reactor installation to come on board. “Most nuclear reactor operators don’t react too nicely to building a six-meter hole in the ground,” Huber says.

The proof that aerial detectors could work came in 2018, when two projects, called Perspective and Chandler– on which Huber is a collaborator, actually captured the ghost particles on the surface. The combination of Watchman’s advancements and this new aerial detection helped spark the interest of officials who would potentially like to use the technology more than prototypes and a use of the navel. Recently, the Department of Energy commissioned a group, including Huber, to define where and how neutrino science could actually be useful for nuclear security. They examined, for example, whether the elusive particles could reveal nuclear tests, spent fuel and reactor activity.

Although the official report is not yet ready, the team this spring compiled some of the findings in a publicly available document titled “Neutrino detectors as nuclear security tools. The group found that, at least in the short term, neutrinos were not very useful for picking up explosions or spent fuel. But they could contribute, relatively soon, to the monitoring of reactors.

Bethany Goldblum, a nuclear engineer at the University of California at Berkeley, worked with Huber and others on the report. “We believe that the use of neutrinos to monitor known reactors is the most immediate opportunity,” she says. Further on, they could potentially search for hidden reactors. But the real The opportunity, Goldblum believes, is to check the interiors of advanced reactors, such as those that mix molten salt with radioactive fuel, rather than using traditional solid fuel rods. “In the existing reactors, we have adequate means,” she said, referring to the IAEA’s verification programs. “States are comfortable and we are doing a good job with accounting. I don’t think neutrino monitoring really adds much to it. “

With that information in hand, the Department of Energy has also created a more practical study group, called NuTools, which aims to determine where, in real life, their knowledge about neutrinos might be useful to nuclear security practitioners. that help enforce international guarantees. Discussions began this summer, with the web page mentioning, appropriately to the pandemic, “Where: all virtual meetings.”

“The research on this topic has been conducted by neutrino scientists interested in what we need to do technologically,” says Huber, who is part of the group. “NuTools says,“ Now let’s talk to the people who deal with warranties to find out what would benefit them. “In a sense, this is market research.” Coalition officers come from the Department of Energy’s national laboratories; the National Institute of Standards and Technology; and universities like MIT, Georgia Tech, and the Illinois Institute of Technology. Goldblum is also on this list.

Goldblum, who trained as an applied nuclear physicist, took an interest in security during a three-week public policy training camp that she attended while in graduate school. “I hadn’t really thought about the political implications of my technical research,” she says. “After a few days at training camp, I was having nightmares about the nuclear holocaust.” She began to think of basic physics not as something neutral, but as something that has security implications around the world – something that physicists have been grappling with at least since the Manhattan Project. Today, Goldblum shares her accomplishments with students and also as Executive Director of the Nuclear Science and Security Consortium, a research group sponsored by the National Nuclear Security Administration.

In fact, most people who do neutrino-nuclear work are abandoning “basic research” – or at least crossing the line – like Goldblum did. This is the kind of scientific work underlying security that the consortium aims to enable.


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