• Robots help in the demanding Fukushima cleanup efforts

    In 2011, a tsunami triggered by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake all but decimated the Pacific Coast of Tohoku, Japan, including the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. A catastrophic meltdown ensued. Many tons of nuclear fuel, boiled down to a radioactive lava, corroded the steel surrounding the facility’s three reactors. Today, the cleanup effort is still projected to take several decades. S&T and NIST developed standard test methods for robots, which the Japanese government is now beginning to apply directly to their Fukushima cleanup efforts.

  • Better monitoring of nuclear power plants, nuclear proliferation

    The United Kingdom is investing nearly £10 million (about $12.7 million) in a joint project with the United States to harness existing particle physics research techniques to remotely monitor nuclear reactors. Expected to be operational in 2024, the Advanced Instrumentation Testbed (AIT) project’s 6,500-ton detector will measure the harmless subatomic particles called antineutrinos that are emitted by an existing nuclear power plant 25 kilometers, or about 15.5 miles, away.

  • Long-distance earthquake detection

    In traditional seismology, researchers studying how the earth moves in the moments before, during, and after an earthquake rely on sensors that cost tens of thousands of dollars to make and install underground. Now researchers have figured out a way to overcome these hurdles by turning parts of a 13,000-mile-long testbed of “dark fiber,” unused fiber-optic cable, owned by the DOE Energy Sciences Network (ESnet), into a highly sensitive seismic activity sensor that could potentially augment the performance of earthquake early warning systems currently being developed in the western United States.

  • 700,000 submunitions demilitarized by Sandia-designed robotics system

    More than 700,000 Multiple Launch Rocket System submunitions have been demilitarized since the Army started using an automated nine-robot system conceptualized, built and programmed by Sandia Lab engineers. The automated system was built for the Army’s demilitarization program that aims to dismantle obsolete ammunition and missiles.

  • Marine organisms as detectors of enemy undersea activity

    Goliath grouper, black sea bass, and snapping shrimp, along with bioluminescent plankton and other microorganisms, are set to be the unlikely additions to protecting U.S. assets. Researchers are developing new types of sensor systems that detect and record the behaviors of these marine organisms and interpret them to identify, characterize, and report on the presence of manned and unmanned underwater vehicles operating in strategic waters. The incorporation of biological signals will extend the range, lifetime, and performance of undersea surveillance technologies in strategic waters.

  • The opening moments of the Chernobyl disaster: New theory

    A brand-new theory of the opening moments during the Chernobyl disaster, the most severe nuclear accident in history, based on additional analysis. The new theory suggests the first of the two explosions reported by eyewitnesses was a nuclear and not a steam explosion, as is currently widely thought.

  • NRC weakens a critical safety regulation, ignoring Fukushima disaster lessons

    The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC), in a 3-2 vote, approved a stripped-down version of a rule originally intended to protect U.S. nuclear plants against extreme natural events, such as the massive earthquake and tsunami that triggered meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan in March 2011. The decision will leave U.S. nuclear plants dangerously vulnerable to major floods and earthquakes.

  • Robots to operate in nuclear no-go zones

    Sturdy, intelligent robots which react to their surroundings are being developed to work in situations which are too dangerous for humans, such as cleaning up Europe’s decades-old radioactive waste or helping during a nuclear emergency.

  • Death in the air: Revisiting the 2001 anthrax mailings and the Amerithrax investigation

    Time may have dimmed the memory of the 2001 anthrax attacks and the sense of urgency surrounding the efforts to identify the attacker. The attacks, which involved mailings of five anthrax-laced letters to prominent senators and media outlets, killed five individuals and made seventeen others ill. The anthrax mailings played a crucial role in raising concerns over possible terrorist use of biological agents in attacks against the homeland. As a result of the anthrax scare, Americans’ perceptions of terrorism came to include an existential fear of biological terrorism.

  • Breeding challenges of land mine-finding rats

    Thousands of people – many of them children – are hurt or killed by land mines each year, so finding these devices before they explode is critical. There is a surprising champion of detection: the African giant pouched rat. Native to sub-Saharan Africa, the pouched rats are large – they can grow up to 3 feet long, including the tail – but are still too small to set off the land mines. They have an exceptional sense of smell – they are also used to detect tuberculosis – but scientists know very little about their biology or social structure, and they’re difficult to breed in captivity.

  • The quiet threat inside ‘internet of things’ devices

    As Americans increasingly buy and install smart devices in their homes, all those cheap interconnected devices create new security problems for individuals and society as a whole. The problem is compounded by businesses radically expanding the number of sensors and remote monitors it uses to manage overhead lights in corporate offices and detailed manufacturing processes in factories. Governments, too, are getting into the act – cities, especially, want to use new technologies to improve energy efficiency, reduce traffic congestion and improve water quality. The number of these “internet of things” devices is climbing into the tens of billions. They’re creating an interconnected world with the potential to make people’s lives more enjoyable, productive, secure and efficient. But those very same devices, many of which have no real security protections, are also becoming part of what are called “botnets,” vast networks of tiny computers vulnerable to hijacking by hackers.

  • Developing concepts for escape respirator

    DHS S&T announced the Escape Respirator Challenge, a $250,000 prize competition that seeks new concepts for an escape respirator solution. This challenge invites the innovation community to submit relevant, useable, effective, and feasible concepts that protects the user against aerosolized chemical, biological, and radiological (CBR) hazards and provides oxygen.

  • U.S. must start from scratch with a new nuclear waste strategy: Experts

    The U.S. government has worked for decades and spent tens of billions of dollars in search of a permanent resting place for the nation’s nuclear waste. Some 80,000 tons of highly radioactive spent fuel from commercial nuclear power plants and millions of gallons of high-level nuclear waste from defense programs are stored in pools, dry casks and large tanks at more than seventy-five sites throughout the country. “No single group, institution or governmental organization is incentivized to find a solution,” says one expert.

  • What should we do with nuclear waste?

    The failure to develop a strategy for permanent storage and disposal of this fuel costs Americans billions of dollars a year and jeopardizes the future of nuclear power as a carbon-free source of energy, according to nuclear security expert Rodney C. Ewing. He recommends a new not for profit independent corporation that’s owned and supported by the utilities that operate nuclear power plants. The new organization would deal only with spent fuel from commercial reactors. Defense waste is an entirely different issue and should, at this time, remain the responsibility of the federal government.

  • Inexpensive super-absorbent material offers solution for ocean oil spills

    A super-absorbent material developed by Penn State scientists could dramatically reduce the environmental impact of oil spills on oceans and allow recovered oil to be refined normally. The synthetic material, called i-Petrogel, absorbs more than 40 times its weight in crude oil, and effectively stops the oil from spreading after a spill, according to the researchers.